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Complete String Quartets

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Product Details

  • Performer: Vermeer Quartet
  • Composer: Bartok
  • Audio CD (May 17 2005)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Ncl
  • ASIN: B0008JEKD6
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #166,490 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Disc: 1
1. I. Lento/Attacca
2. II. Poco A Poco Accelerando
3. III. Introduzione/Allegro/Attacca/Allegro Vivace
4. Prima Parte: Moderato/Attacca
5. Seconda Parte: Allegro/Attacca
6. Ricapitulazione Della Prima Parte: Moderato/Coda: Allegro Molto
7. I. Allegro
8. II. Adagio Molto
9. III. Scherzo
10. IV. Andante
See all 11 tracks on this disc
Disc: 2
1. I. Moderato
2. II. Allegro Molto Capriccioso
3. III. Lento
4. I. Allegro
5. II. Prestissimo, Con Sordino
6. III. Non Troppo Lento
7. IV. Allegretto Pizzicato
8. V. Allegro Molto
9. I. Mesto/Piu Mosso, Prsante/Vivace
10. II. Mesto/Marcia
See all 12 tracks on this disc

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars 10 reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tough music with warmth Jan. 8 2006
By E. Weed - Published on
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.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid, Satisfying, Budget-Priced Bartók Quartets May 26 2005
By J Scott Morrison - Published on
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.

For a string quartet to successfully traverse all six quartets the group must be able to successfully negotiate the dizzying array of techniques -- including some Bartók invented, like the 'snap pizzicato' -- and styles with complete assurance and aplomb. The Vermeer meets these requirements with ease. They do tend to slightly romanticize the music, at least when compared with some other quartets' approach, but frankly I find this approach easier to digest. Probably their approach is most like that of the Berg, overall, but this is not to say that it is a copy of that estimable quartet's manner. Still, there is a rounded quality to their tone and their rhythmic approach that helps the more spare elements (as in No. 4) go down more easily. Detailing is impeccable, there is wide dynamic variation and the rhythmic brio in the Hungarian folk-inflected sections is infectious yet not over the top or out of control. These are not 'safe' performances, but rather they are closely thought-out and controlled.

These are wholly creditable recordings and are made all the more so by their astonishingly low price. I would suggest purchase of this 2CD set for a) those who do not already own a set and are just a bit unsure about whether they really want to invest in a set of Bartók quartets and b) those who own several sets, love the quartets, and want a new version to add to the Bartók section of their CD collection.


2CDs TT=2hr34mins

Scott Morrison
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent music. More or less playing July 8 2007
By Osvaldo Colarusso - Published on
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???
17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Middling Performances In Good Sound May 27 2005
By Jeffrey Lipscomb - Published on
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. Morrison's assertion that the Juilliards twice recorded Bartok's Six Quartets is not quite correct - they did three studio recordings, but sadly, their last one from 1981 (Sony) is nowhere near the level of their two earlier sets.

As Mr. Morrison has indicated, this Naxos set is inexpensive and could be an introductory choice for those who want to get acquainted with these glorious works. However, Sony cannot remain deaf forever to the pleas of chamber music lovers for a re-issue of the classic 1963 Juilliard set (the 3-LP original has become something of a collector's item). If THAT should appear on a Sony budget label, don't let it pass you by. To my ears, the Juilliard's extraordinary playing is clearly superior to the Vermeer's (particularly when comparing the cellists: in 1963 the Juilliard's Claus Adam is excellent, while in 1950 Arthur Winograd plays with even more personality). If I could have just ONE set of the Bartok Quartets in excellent stereo sound, my choice would be that 1963 Juilliard effort.

Jeff Lipscomb
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great performance for a great value June 21 2005
By Panagiotis - Published on
Format: Audio CD
To be quite honest I've never heard these quartets performed by any of the mentioned groups such as the Emerson's or the Tekacs quartets but I have heard string quartets written by other composers that were played by a wide variety of performers. A string quartet performance is usually judged on its intonation or the ability for all the musicians to have viruoso control over their instruments and make an A sound exactly like an A and sound very "tuned". A performance is also judged by where the microphone is placed and how much reverb the recording venue has. I like the intimate sound of close miking and low reverberation myself because I feel the musicians are playing just for me and I hear every line of the music perfectly clear. Well this recording for the low cost of 12 bucks for 2 cd's is a great value if not the best recorded. To my ears at least. The players intonaton and ability to play off each other is absolutely superb. This is 20th century music making and its coldest and bleakest. The only thing that bothers me is the distant recording technique employed by the Naxos engineers as well as the slighly over reverberant church the Vermeers were recorded in. I feel that the music is just a little too far away sometimes but to be fair the music might be clearer than if the mic's were up close. All in all a great performance for a bargain price. I look forward to purchasing the Tekacs set next to see how big of an experience the music can be.