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Not for the tone deaf
le 28 janvier 2004
These are some of the most lyrical works in all of music. I say this as one who started out as a skeptic. When I first heard Bartok's quartets I was sure that the legions of musicians, critics and assorted know-it-alls were only pretending to enjoy the stuff.
But this, like all other justly famous modern pieces, is no phoney-baloney. Bartok's melodies are as captivating as anything else in the classical repertoire. Of course it requires a lot of effort from the listener to appreciate the depth and beauty of these works. Even those who cannot stand anything other than traditional tonal music will find the 2nd and 4th movements of Quartet No. 5 hard to resist; and Quartet No. 1 is not far removed from the harmonies of Wagner.
Those who claim there is no "structure and melody" should get the score and play the pieces for themselves or, at the very least, listen more closely.
And, by the way, this is the best recording of Bartok's quartets I have heard, both in terms of the quality of the recording and the quality of the playing. The latter is of course subjective - some of my friends prefer the Juilliard Quartet recording. You'll probably prefer this CD if you like less vibrato and moderate tempi.