Arditti Quartet

Elliot Carter: String Quartets 1-4; Elegy

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The Arditti Quartet's fluid performances of Elliott Carter's String Quartets Nos. 1-4 on Et'cetera are rivaled only by the Juilliard Quartet's muscular renditions on Sony; both recordings were supervised by the composer, and both offer valuable insights into the most innovative and important quartets composed after Bartók and Shostakovich. So how to choose between them? The Arditti set -- originally released as separate CDs but issued here as a double disc -- is arranged out of sequence, with the String Quartet No. 1 paired with No. 4 on Disc 1, and Disc 2 has the String Quartets No. 2 and No. 3, rounded out with the early Elegy (1943); the Juilliard box is in numerical order and offers the Duo for violin and piano (1974) as filler. As far as the performances may be compared, the Arditti plays with a glossier tone and greater dynamic flexibility, while the Juilliard delivers the quartets with a rougher edge, crisper definition of parts, and a more forward, declamatory style. When coupled with its 1996 Naive recording of the String Quartet No. 5, the Arditti recordings would make a complete set, and a handsome one at that. Aside from that consideration, however, the two groups are evenly matched, and any serious Carter fan would do well to acquire both collections.

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