BARTÓK: String Quartets 1-6 (complete).
EMI 94400 2 3 (F) (DDD) TT: 76:40 + 79:47
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Bartók's string quartets have long been considered not only central
to his achievement, but among the best quartets of the twentieth century.
I first collected the Juilliard complete LP set, a good introduction, although
the quartets back then were still considered "hard" new music,
and the sense of struggle was evident in the Juilliard's wiry readings.
Of the complete sets since, I've heard the Emerson, the Végh, the
Tatrai, and the Takács, as well as, now, the Belcea. For me, the
group to beat is the Takács on Decca, who play with an intensity
and warmth unmatched by the others.
Intensity and understanding are exactly what I miss from the Belcea, who,
as far as I'm concerned, merely play the notes, and I'm not thrilled by
either of the violinists, who lack the tone to support Bartók's
big moments. They have done some nice Schubert and Mozart, but they seem
like they're struggling in the deep end of the pool here. Unless you want
every complete set out there, there's almost no reason to buy this one.
S.G.S. (May 2008)