Bartok: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 5; String Quartet No. 6

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COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Erato Ultima
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 5; String Quartet No. 6
PERFORMER: Keller Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-25594-2 Reissue (1995)
Highly praised when it was first released in the mid Nineties, the Keller Quartet’s Bartók cycle seems an even more inviting proposition at budget price. As one might expect from a native Hungarian ensemble, the Kellers are technically irreproachable and are absolutely inside the composer’s idiom, matching Central European warmth of tone in the more Romantic First and Second Quartets with the requisite percussiveness in the outer movements of the Fourth and Fifth. Admittedly its approach at times lacks the chromium-plated dynamism of the Emerson and Juilliard Quartets, both of whom provide perhaps more visceral excitement in the Burletta of the Sixth Quartet. Of more recent recordings, the Takács Quartet’s version on full-price Decca is not dissimilar in terms of tempo, rubato and melodic inflection, but in the last resort is preferable, offering a wider dynamic and tonal range, a more infectious delineation of Bartók’s asymmetric rhythms and superior engineering. Erik Levi

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