Jerusalem Quartet

Bartók: String Quartets Nos. 2, 4, & 6

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For this late 2016 release, the Jerusalem Quartet presents the even-numbered string quartets of Béla Bartók, presumably as the first of two volumes. While the Jerusalem Quartet has delved rather deeply into the Romantic chamber works of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Dvorák, and Schumann, its modernist programming has mostly involved works by Shostakovich and Janácek. Bartók's quartets, of course, are de rigueur for string players setting out to prove their mettle, and his uncompromising explorations of Eastern European folk idioms, complex rhythms, close dissonances, polytonality, and extended string techniques have made them essential repertoire for virtuoso ensembles. Beyond the fierce technical demands of this music, these quartets may be regarded as a résumé of Bartók's career, touching on his early phase, when he was influenced by Richard Strauss and Debussy, his experimental middle period, and his late, uneasy rapprochement with neoclassicism. The Jerusalem Quartet is one of a handful of groups capable of playing these works with accuracy and finesse, and these performances demonstrate a fairly sober, intellectual approach that may remind some listeners of the Juilliard String Quartet's 1963 set for Columbia, rather more than the heated 1998 interpretations of the Takács String Quartet on RCA. This Harmonia Mundi disc is likely to be one of the most highly regarded recordings of the quartets, so a follow-up volume with the odd-numbered works is eagerly awaited.

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