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
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: 4509-98538-2 DDD
Bartók’s six quartets are to the 20th century what Beethoven’s cosmic late masterpieces were to the 19th. Composed over a thirty-year period, they chart Bartók’s progress toward sublime mastery, his abandonment of tonality and systematic reappraisal of the conceptual principles of quartet-writing. The First Quartet (1907-9), infused by Debussy, Brahms, and Strauss, already eschews convention, with its three-movement ground plan. The Fourth (1928; remarkable for its concentric, mirror-like architecture) and Fifth (1934) presented a headlong challenge to structural orthodoxy. Bartók’s Third Quartet (1927) is the most profoundly concentrated, developing tension through juxtaposed lyrical and motoric episodes, while the final work of the series (1939) is as much point of departure as summation.

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These sensational performances from the Hungarian Keller Quartet are worthy successors to the seminal Végh Quartet cycle, recorded twenty years ago. The Kellers play with arresting intensity and a cogency which illuminates the essence of pure logic throughout these works. Recorded sound is excellent; warm, resonant and detailed, though a leaner, more clinical ambience (as in DG’s mid-priced Tokyo cycle) has certain advantages in scores of such complexity. Galvanic playing, nonetheless, and a distinguished addition to the Bartók discography. Michael Jameson