Jerusalem Quartet – Béla Bartók – String Quartets Nos. 1, 3 & 5 (2020)
LAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 01:17:24 minutes | 1,34 GB | Genre: Classical
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Digital Booklet, Front Cover | © harmonia mundi
From the opening funeral dirge of the First Quartet to the incandescent frenzy that concludes the Fifth, this disc offers a genuine panorama of the Bartókian universe. A world unto itself, constantly stamped with the heritage of Hungarian folklore so dear to the composer: two years after a first volume devoted to the even-numbered works (nos. 2, 4 and 6), the musicians of the Jerusalem Quartet expertly complete their recording of a key cycle of modern chamber music, a musical saga drawn on the scale of a lifetime!
Even in the context of it no longer being unusual to present Bartók’s string quartets as firmly classical works, rather than majoring on their Hungarian folk echoes, the Jerusalem Quartet’s Bartók’s is still striking for its sheer polish and beauty of tone. We heard it with the first installment of their cycle, covering numbers 2, 4 and 6. Now we have it again with numbers 1, 3 and 5.
The beauty doesn’t come at the expense of drama or momentum, either. Thinking of momentum in particular, Quartet No. 1’s final Allegro vivace is bristling with it, although it’s perhaps other qualities that leap most to the fore across this ravishing reading. Written in 1909 as a farewell to the violinist Stefi Geyer, for whom Bartók had long nursed a painful, unrequited love, this work is a melding of his late Romantic, Germanic or Austro-Hungarian early background, with the new influences of Debussy and folk music, and here the melding of all this is often sublime. For instance drop in at at 2’15” and 8’37” in the final movement for ecstatic climaxes which, to the already intoxicating wholetone harmonies and pentatonic scales, these four bring a luminosity of tone and sumptuously wide sound that brings shimmering Debussy orchestral scores to mind. Or for an example of the Viennese elegance with which they’ve dealt with the Hungarian folk echoes, head to the violin double-stops preceding that second climax (from 7’00” onwards) which are all the more effective for the Jerusalem not having taken the overt gypsy shindig route.
On to 1927 for the Third Quartet – and Bartók’s later, more concentrated and abstract style – and under the Jerusalem’s fingertips its succession of special string effects are bringing fresh sonic treats at every twist and turn: eerily beautiful sul ponticello passages; glissandi despatched with both firm control and fluid flexibility; a fabulous depth of tone when the score (often) demands; razer-sharp definition to the lines, whether over homophony or contrapuntal interweavings. – Charlotte Gardner
1. Jerusalem Quartet – String Quartet No. 1, Op. 7, Sz. 40, BB 52: I. Lento
2. Jerusalem Quartet – String Quartet No. 1, Op. 7, Sz. 40, BB 52: II. Allegretto
3. Jerusalem Quartet – String Quartet No. 1, Op. 7, Sz. 40, BB 52: III. Allegro vivace
4. Jerusalem Quartet – String Quartet No. 3, Sz. 85, BB 93: I. Prima parte. Moderato
5. Jerusalem Quartet – String Quartet No. 3, Sz. 85, BB 93: II. Seconda parte. Allegro
6. Jerusalem Quartet – String Quartet No. 3, Sz. 85, BB 93: III. Ricapitulazione della prima parte. Moderato
7. Jerusalem Quartet – String Quartet No. 3, Sz. 85, BB 93: IV. Coda. Allegro molto
8. Jerusalem Quartet – String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102, BB 110: I. Allegro
9. Jerusalem Quartet – String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102, BB 110: II. Adagio molto
10. Jerusalem Quartet – String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102, BB 110: III. Scherzo. Alla bulgarese
11. Jerusalem Quartet – String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102, BB 110: IV. Andante
12. Jerusalem Quartet – String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102, BB 110: V. Finale. Allegro vivace – Presto