String Quartets Nos 3, 5 & 6
Channel Classics CCS42421 75:48 mins
The Ragazze Quartet from the Netherlands has been devoting its attention over the last five years to a project called Bartók Bound, of which this is the second instalment. Bringing together the Third, Fifth and Sixth of the Hungarian composer’s string quartet cycle, they have chosen a fine way to group the works, emphasising their contrasts. No. 3 is in many ways the most uncompromising of them all, years ahead of its time (1927), while the relatively expansive and folk-influenced Nos 5 and 6 from the late 1930s belie the troubling political developments that would soon send Bartók into exile in the US.
After their well-received account of the other three quartets, the Ragazze don’t disappoint with this follow-up. Whether in the whispered, unearthly textures of No. 3 or the dug-in rhythms and fierce embellishments at the opening of No. 5, many are the moments in which the Ragazze players slalom their way splendidly from challenge to challenge, with the tension strongly sustained and the ensemble well unified, breathing as one. The recorded sound is clear and close.
The Bartók cycle has of course been extensively recorded, and the Ragazze’s accounts need perhaps an extra edge of virtuoso drive and sheer sonic charisma if they are to hold their own beside the likes of the Takács or Emerson quartets. Still, their sheer passion, energy and commitment make for satisfying performances.