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Complete String Quartets

4.0 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 17, 2005
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Product Details

  • Performer: Vermeer Quartet
  • Composer: Bela Bartok
  • Audio CD (May 17, 2005)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B0008JEKD6
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #424,142 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Weed on January 8, 2006
Format: Audio CD
Other reviewers have already given us some excellent commentary about this release, so I'll just add a bit: I've been aware for some time that this group of quartets is considered by many to be amongst the greatest chamber music works of the 20th Century. I've tried getting to know this music through listening to several of the versions that have appeared over the years, including most mentioned in other reviews. This music does not fall easily on the ears (mine, anyway), and I've felt that the versions that I've heard (with the exception of the Vegh's) tend to emphasize the gritty toughness of the music, with special attention to the cutting edge (and virtuosic) nature of the work. And, to the uninitiated, this may cause the music to come across as rather cold and even bleak. (Some might argue that it IS cold and bleak, but I think there's more to it than that.)

The Vermeers approach these quartets with a warmer, even romantic bent (as others have noted). I like that. At least for purposes of "learning" these quartets, some listeners (like me) could very well prefer this approach. The sound is fairly warm, and a bit recessed, which, again, for some of us, may be just the thing.

If you don't know these quartets, and you want to give them a try, I think the Vermeers represent a great choice...economic, and with an emphasis on the warmer side of this challenging, but stimulating music.
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Format: Audio CD
The six string quartets by Bela Bartók are possibly the most important set of quartets written in the twentieth century -- some might nominate the Shostakovich Quartets for that honor, so there is some disagreement about it -- and they have been extremely fortunate in the recordings that been made of them. I'm probably forgetting some of the important complete sets, but among the notable recordings are those by the Vegh, Juilliard (twice), Emerson, Berg and Hagen Quartets. The Vermeer Quartet, long the resident string quartet at Northern Illinois University who have made substantial recordings of the central quartet repertoire, has entered the field with this super-budget release on the Naxos label. First violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi has been with the group since its founding; other members currently include Mathias Tacke, violin, Richard Young, viola, and Marc Johnson, cello.

These quartets limn the development of Bartók's style from the earliest 'exacerbated Romanticism' of the first two, through the increasingly astringent style of Nos. 3, 4 and 5, on through to a newly romanticized style in No. 6, all with their extraordinarily complex and deeply satisfying formal innovations including Bartók's all-but-patented arch form, variation form, modern counterpoint and a concealed sonata form. Also featured are quotations and reminiscences of folk music, including the deliciously decadent barrel-organ variation in the last movement of the Fifth, which on inspection turns out to be an inversion of the original theme.
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Format: Audio CD
Bela Bartók was one of the most important composers of the first half of the twentieth century . The quartets he composed are the most significant part of a work of very high importance. These quartets With the Quartets of Schoenberg , Berg and Webern show us that the first half of the last century was the golden age of the Quartet of Strings. With the quartets of Debussy and Ravel these period was really comparable with the Viennese Period of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert.
The first and the last quartet Bartók wrote aren't of the level of the second ( my favorite), third , fourth and fifth . But the two quartets (1 and 6) aren't bad compositions. Every Quartet is typical of the transformation of the author.
I love the recordings of the Julliard Quartet made at the beginning of the sixtieths. And I love the recordings of the Hungarian Quartet . The Emerson isn't bad. I love the fast way they play. I think that the Emerson Quartet is the only one that follow the crazy metronomes of Bartók. And they are exemplar in clarity . The recording of the Vermeer is sometime disappointing .The musicians are fantastic but the conception isn't exceptional . They play this crazy music as "normal" compositions. They are really cautious . The result isn't regular. The only quartet I love in this double CD is the No 6. The others are played with "fear".
One last thing: why they do a small cut at the end of the First movement of the second Quartet???
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Format: Audio CD
I have to respectfully disagree with reviewer Scott Morrison's assessment of this effort by the Vermeer Quartet. If I were to assign a term paper grade, their readings would get an "A+/C+" rating (A+ for the musical content of Bartok's scores, C+ for the interpretation & execution). And I feel less equivocal than Mr. Morrison regarding the stature of these works: to my ears, they are clearly the finest integral set of string quartets produced by ANY 20th Century composer (including the Shostakovich and Schoenberg masterpieces in this medium).

The Vermeers play competently enough, and they receive very good recorded sound. But their rather cautious and slightly pedestrian readings lack the virtuoso sheen of the Emerson Quartet, and they sorely lack the rustic, almost earthy style of the Takacs ensemble. Like Beethoven's, the string quartets of Bartok cover a wide span of the composer's artistic life, and it's a huge challenge interpretively for any one ensemble to reconcile the romantic 1st Quartet with the far more abstract qualities of the 6th. I don't feel the Vermeer Quartet quite rises to the task, and my copy of their recording is now on its way to the used CD store.

To my taste, only one ensemble has achieved that goal: the Juilliard Quartet. Their historical first-ever set of the quartets from 1950 (in excellent transfers on a Pearl CD set - see my review) probes the meditative side of Bartok like no other, while their second recording (1963 for Columbia LPs in excellent stereo sound, sadly not yet transferred to CD) is unparalleled for cat-like agility and rhythmic inflection. Mr.
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