LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
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; String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Tokyo String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68286 2 DDD
Two decades have elapsed since the Tokyo recorded its first Bartók cycle for DG. Then, the ensemble possessed phenomenal tonal diversity, and its earlier thoughts on the six quartets are rarely superseded in this new digital traversal, intelligently coupled with the two Janácek quartets. Its current leader, Peter Oundjian, plays superbly, though one misses subtleties of voicing and timbre and, most of all, the overwhelming impression that this cycle evolves organically and inevitably.
Intimate Letters, the second of Janácek’s two quartets was, declared the 74-year-old composer, ‘written in fire’; you’d guess as much here, and in the Tokyo’s account of the Tolstoy-inspired The Kreutzer Sonata (No. 1), but again, razor-honed precision, though mightily impressive, robs the music of its essential humanity. Recorded sound is vivid, though less natural than Erato’s engineering for the Keller Quartet.
Bartók’s Quartets Nos 1, 3 and 4 are played with authority and erudite technical command by the Orpheus Quartet; they are cogently disciplined readings, over-brimming with incident, and very capably engineered, too. Yet despite their summary virtues, neither the Tokyo or Orpheus Quartets will displace the Kellers as legitimate heirs of the seminal Végh Quartet tradition in these works. Michael Jameson