Album Review

Bartok, Bela – “6 String Quartets ” – [Deutsche Grammophon]

cujo   9/16/2007   A Library, CD

You can be sure that between 100 and 60 years ago, if KFJC had been around, that Nozmo King would have invited the Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet to play Bartok on his show. That quartet was formed to premiere Bartok???s first quartet in 1910, and went on to premiere the next 3 as well. Back in the day, this was very forward-thinking stuff, and it???s my hope that for KFJC
fans it can still be a challenging and rewarding listen.

Bartok???s set of 6 quartets are the next pinnacle of the genre after Beethoven???s. Most of the typical formal constraints (four movements and sonata form) are for the first time successfully shucked, allowing for the assimilation instead of novel instrumental techniques (like the Bartok pizzicato), folk tunes, folk rhythms, folk dissonances (including quarter-tones). Strangely, they draw just as much a lineage from folk tradition and 20th century innovations (musical and technological) as they
do from traditional classical rules, just slightly translated. It???s as if Bartok invented his own powerful grammar. Like a musical Elfish or Esperanto.

A Bartok set is the modern litmus test for string quartet excellence. This 1988 Emerson set is fine indeed. Cellist and bay area native David Finckel, by the way, is the force behind the annual Music At Menlo series that just wrapped up a month ago.

–Cujo, KFJC, September 2007

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