Bartók, String Quartets, Takács Quartet (2d ed., 1998)
Bartók, String Quartets, Takács Quartet (1st ed., 1985)
In one sense, the scores of the Bartók string quartets trace one composer's absorption of the musical trends of the first half of the 20th century -- something that composer George Perle, an acute analyst, noted almost fifty years ago. The Takács's division of the six quartets, all of the odd-numbered quartets the first evening and the evens the second, makes it possible to hear that trajectory twice. Beginning with the first quartet, the only one composed before World War I, they gave Bartók's exploration of more Romantic tonal harmony a heated rendition. Bartók began the piece just after his obsession with the young violinist Steffi Geyer had come to its end: scholar János Kárpáti puts the dates of composition, from sketches to publication, at 1907 to 1909. Kárpáti describes an annotation the composer made in the score of the firts violin concerto around the same time -- a date in 1907 and the word Jászberény, which Geyer has interpreted as a reference to the time that Bartók likely fell in love with her, when she and her brother invited the composer as a guest in their relatives' house in that city. The broken seventh chord that begins the first quartet's first movement is a variation of the so-called "Steffi Geyer-motif," leading Kárpáti to describe the movement as "the concentrate of the Violin Concerto." The two pieces are the closest, in Kárpáti's estimation, that Bartók came to a close imitation of the longing love-death style of harmony and melodic writing he admired in Wagner. These are the qualities that the Takács Quartet brought out so admirably, each instrument's line sounding so beautiful on its own and integrated into the whole.
Zachary Woolfe, Taking On a Master and His Many Complexities (New York Times, January 22)
George Grella, Compelling and mysterious, the inner Bartók is explored by the Takács Quartet (New York Classical Review, January 19)
The cycle concludes tonight, in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, and tickets still remain.