Bartok - Complete String Quartets
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Label: Harmonia Mundi
Cat No: HMM90766162
Number of Discs: 2
Release Date: 30th June 2017
“an unqualified triumph ... as a former Tippett scholar I rejoiced at the gleaming new insights provided at every twist and turn of sustained arguments ... an essential set for any true music lover.” - The Strad, April 2016
“Russian interpreters have tended to dominate this repertoire in the catalogue, so it’s good to hear these outstanding young British musicians in still relatively neglected works...the Heath players pour out Tchaikovsky’s grief for his friend with a depth of tone and virtuosity – in the allegros – that matches the finest Russians on disc. A notable debut.” - Sunday Times, 20 November 2016
- Oliver Heath (violin)
- Cerys Jones (violin)
- Gary Pomeroy (viola)
- Christopher Murray (cello)
1Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 1, Sz. 40: I. Lento
2Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 1, Sz. 40: II. Allegretto. Introduzione
3Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 1, Sz. 40: III. Allegro vivace
4Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 3, Sz. 85: I. Prima parte. Moderato
5Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 3, Sz. 85: II. Seconda parte. Allegro
6Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 3, Sz. 85: III. Recapitulazione della prima parte. Moderato
7Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 3, Sz. 85: IV. Coda. Allegro molto
8Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102: I. Allegro
9Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102: II. Adagio molto
10Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102: III. Scherzo. Alla bulgarese
11Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102: IV. Andante
12Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102: V. Finale. Allegro vivace
13Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 2, Sz. 67: I. Moderato
14Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 2, Sz. 67: II. Allegro Molto Capriccioso
15Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 2, Sz. 67: III. Lento
16Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 4, Sz. 91: I. Allegro
17Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 4, Sz. 91: II. Prestissimo, Con Sordino
18Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 4, Sz. 91: III. Non Troppo Lento
19Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 4, Sz. 91: IV. Allegretto Pizzicato
20Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 4, Sz. 91: V. Allegro Molto
21Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 6, Sz. 114: I. Mesto. Piů Mosso, Pesante, Vivace
22Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 6, Sz. 114: II. Mesto. Marcia
23Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 6, Sz. 114: III. Mesto, Burletta. Moderato
24Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 6, Sz. 114: IV. Mesto
Having recently given us an acclaimed cycle of Tippett quartets on the Wigmore Hall Live label, the Heath Quartet – formed in 2002 at the Royal Northern College of Music – now turn their attention to Bartók, again recorded at London’s Wigmore Hall, but this time for Harmonia Mundi (for whom they have already set down Tchaikovsky’s First and Third quartets). As with the Takács and Belcea ensembles, the Heaths find a thoroughly convincing middle way that brings out the innate lyricism of Bartók’s writing while not shying away from the more forthright technical and expressive demands of the composer’s particular brand of musical brand of modernism.
Two things in particular mark this set as special: one is the entirely natural sound-picture, which casts just the right amount of spatial warmth around the players – producers Alexander van Ingen and Dave Rowell and engineer Chris Kalcov achieve remarkable result in the Wigmore’s often tricky acoustic. Allied to this is the quality of the sound produced by the players themselves: it has a remarkable grain to it, as if the wood of the instruments itself was speaking to us. This pays obvious dividends in the First Quartet, which has an almost period-instrument clarity to it without any of the HIP mannerisms that might imply. But even in the more mature works, the quieter passages (slow and fast) have an extraordinary transparency to them without any recourse to unnatural spotlighting. Try the opening of the Coda to the Third Quartet (helpfully given its own track) or the bulgarese Scherzo of the Fifth to sample the wonderful sounds the players conjure up.
As for the more assertive music, such as the Fourth’s opening Allegro or the same work’s Finale, there is no want of bite or spirit, yet nothing is pushed beyond the natural expressive or acoustic limits – something which occasionally mars the otherwise admirable Emerson cycle on DG. The Heath Quartet never forget that, even at its most apparently aggressive and Dionysiac, Bartók’s music, with its manifold folk roots, is fundamentally lyrical in nature. In the Sixth Quartet, his eventual farewell to the genre (a Seventh was at the sketch stage at the time of his death), they bring out all the character of the second-movement March and the grotesque third-movement burlesque, while all the time keeping in view the overarching mournfulness of the recurring motto theme, which ultimately finds full voice in the elegiac finale, leading to a bereft ending which has still has overwhelming resonance.
To accommodate all six works on two discs, the odd-numbered quartets are placed on CD1, the even-numbered on CD2, which preserves a sense of progress across the cycle as well as a spiralling back which is not out of keeping with the music itself. With the Takács set now available only as part of a 32-disc Decca box set, and the Belcea EMI cycle currently out of the catalogue, anyone wanting an excellent set of these matchless works in up-to-date sound need look no further than these vivid new accounts. It’s a tremendous achievement, fully worthy of a place alongside the great recordings of the past.
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