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16.1.23

A Survey of Bartók String Quartet Cycles



► An Index of ionarts Discographies



Continuing my discographies, this is a survey of - hopefully - every extant recorded cycle of Béla Bartók's String Quartets. Because finding the recording dates for all of these cycles had been/remains tricky, I have listed them alphabetically by performer. I do not, by and large, include incomplete cycles. I did, however, include cycles that are not complete on CD, which includes, for example (strangely), the Talich Quartet's Supraphon cycle from 1981/82, but not their incomplete London cycle (Nos 3 & 4 missing) on Collins from 1990/91.

I am sitting on the data for several new discographic entries under work. Ring cycles, Mahler, Nielsen, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven symphony cycles, Mozart Piano Concerto and String Quartet-cycles, among others. They take an awful lot of time to research, however, and even more time to put into html-presentable shape. And even then they are rarely complete or mistake-free. Neither will this one be, and every such post is also a plea to generously inclined readers with more information and knowledge of the subject than I have to lend a helping hand correcting my mistakes or filling data-lacunae. I am explicitly grateful for any such pointers, hinters, and corrections and apologize for any bloomers. Unlike some earlier discographies, this one does intend to be comprehensive. So I am especially grateful if I have sets that I have missed are pointed out to me. I have not listened to them all, but favorites are indicated with the "ionarts choice" graphic. Links to reputable reviews are included where I thought of it and could find any. With hundreds of links in this document, there are, despite my best efforts, bound to be some that are broken or misplaced; I am glad about every correction that comes my way. Enjoy!


Edits

01.20.2023Thanks to the DSCH-SQ4t-Cycle-Survey, I remembered about the Quartetto Classico - and I've added it below.

01.16.2023 I'm about to put this puppy online but have just discovered the first cycle I had hitherto overlooked: The Auryn Quartett's. But now we shoudl be ready.

There is also information floating about the net regarding a "Rudi Mahall Quartett" cycle. I find only Nos. 1, 2, 5, 6 listed under their name and the online recordings seem all to stem from one source. I have my doubts as to whether there really ever was such a quartet/recording or whether it's not some meta-data funk-up. Clarification appreciated..

05.26.2021: I have heard there is a cycle by a "Quartetto Classico" ["Cuarteto Classico"?] but cannot find a trace of it. Anyone know?

(Survey begins after the break, if you didn't land on this page directly)







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Alban Berg Quartet
(~1987)

Günter Pichler, Gerhard Schulz, Thomas Kakuska, Valentin Erben

The Bartók String Quartets from Vienna's premiere string quartet. On the smooth, elegant, harmless side of the spectrum, performed to the perfection with which the quartet made its name when perfection was hardly the standard.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
EMI double-forte
Release: 2002
2CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
EMI 2CD
Release: 2006
2CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Warner
Release: 2014
2CDs

US | UK | DE



Alexander String Quartet
(2012)

Zakarias Grafilo, Frederick Lifsitz, Paul Yarbrough, Sandy Wilson

The fine California-based Alexander String Quartet's recording comes with the two excellent Zoltán Kodály quartets, which gives this set a real edge.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók + Zoltán Kodály
The String Quartets
Foghorn Classics
Release: 2013
3CDs

US | UK | DE














Arcadia Quartet
(2017/18)

Ana Török, Răsvan Dumitru, Traian Boală, Zsolt Török

A recent recording from the Romanian Arcadia Quartet. Well reviewed on MusicWeb.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Chandos
Release: 2018
2CDs

US | UK | DE














Auryn Quartett
(1994/95)

Jens Oppermann, Matthias Lingenfelder, Stuart Eaton, Andreas Arndt

I didn't know about this recording but have followed the quartet for years through their excellent recordings on the Tacet label where they recorded the most un-HIP, smoothly delicious Haydn, and similar Beethoven. Now I'm intrigued as to how their Bartok sounds. The Auryn Quartett never changed their lineup in 40 years of existence. A year ago they quit. (Apparently, Stewart Eaton had a stroke in 2013 and, although he recovered fully, didn't want to go on playing forever. So they said: Let's play as long as the Amadeus Quartet did, 39 years. Due to Corona-related make-up dates, they actually went on to play for 40 years.)

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Accord
Release: 1996
2CDs

FR | UK | DE














Bartók String Quartet I
(1967)

Péter Komlós, Sándor Devich, Géza Nemeth, Károly Botvay

The Bartók Quartet's cycles are terribly difficult to find online because you always ever find Bartók's quartets, not the Bartók Quartet's Bartók quartets. This first set, for Erato (distributed by EMI in some countries), appears never to have made it onto CD. In case I overlooked it, or that it will be re-released, or just for completeness' sake, here it is.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Erato / EMI
Release: 1968
LP Only



available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Erato / EMI
LP Only











Bartók String Quartet II
(1991)

Péter Komlós, Géza Hargitai, Géza Németh, László Mezö

A quarter century after their first recording, the Bartóks were recorded live, in little Nyūzen, Japan.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Canyon Classics
Release: 1993
2CDs

US | UK | DE













Belcea Quartet
(2007)

Corina Belcea-Fisher, Laura Samuel, Krzysztof Chorezelski, Antoine Lederlin

One of a slew of superior young quartets in the late Oughts to record the Bartók quartets, one could do worse than the Belcea... students of the Alban Berg Quartet. ClassicsToday review https://www.classicstoday.com/review/review-14256/?search=1 The quartet now records for the Alpha label and this set appears to be out of print already.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Warner
Release: 2008
2CDs

US | UK | DE














Chiara String Quartet
(2014-1016)

Rebecca Fischer, Hyeyung Julie Yoon, Jonah Sirota, Gegory Beaver

"Bartók by Heart" is the Chiara String Quartet's bit about playing from memory. I'm torn about that. As a gimmick, it's nonsense. Granted, any Bartók string quartets I would likely want to hear from a quartet, would be so well known by the players, that they could play it from memory. But you don't need to show me, by not using parts. Aside, the complexity of such music is such that it is impossible to truly memorize a score in every detail... but merely a way of playing the music. Then again, if that's good and the hassle of turning pages is removed, why not? On record, of course, you can't see the scorelessness and the recordings are very good, indeed, so perhaps it's all a moot point, beyond the marketing angle.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets
Azica
Release: 2016
2CDs

US | UK | DE











Chilingirian Quartet
(1987-1988)

Levon Chilingirian, Mark Butler, Louise Williams, Philip de Groote

Purely anecdotal: This was my first cycle of Bartók string quartets; the slight dominance of the first violin that was the Chilingirian's thing did not bother me here (or wasn't as prominent?) and I remember taking to them. They got very polite reviews in the Gramophone Magazine (vol.1, vol.2), which, label and ensemble being British, could be assumed to be quite damning.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Chandos
Release: 1995
2CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets 1 & 2
Chandos
Release: 1989
1CD

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets 3 & 4
Chandos
Release: 1989
1CD

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
SQ4t #6 & PQ5t
Chandos
Release: 1989
1CD

US | UK | DE


Quartetto Classico
(2011)

Chima Kawahara, Atsumi Hanazaki, Maki Miwa, Mizuhiro Tasaki

One of the more obscure entries in this list: Here is the Quartetto Classico's (live) recording of theses works on the ensemble's cellist Mizuhiro Tazaki's "Creation CI" label. (They have also recorded the complete Shostakovich Quartets.) The Bartók comes with a third CD with the Quartet discussing the composer from a quartet's point of view. Naturally in Japanese.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Creation CI
Release: 201?br /> 2 +1 CDs

JP HMV | DE-->











Budapest String Quartet II
(1958-1961)

Yun-Peng Zhao, Constance Ronzatti, Franck Chevalier, Pierre Morlet

This is about as mainstream as it gets in the Quatuor Diotima's wonderful discography. (Look for their recording of two Conrado del Campo quartets!)

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
naïve
Release: 2019
3 CDs

US | UK | DE












Eder Quartet
(1981?)

Pál Eder, Erika Tóth, Zoltan Tóth, György Eder

First released on LPs in 1981, this set was re-issued once (and never again) on CD in 1996.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Teldec/Warner
Release: 1996
2 CDs


US | UK | DE











Emerson Quartet
(1988)

Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer, Lawrence Dutton, David Finckel

Recorded in New York, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, this set made a splash when it came out and helped establish (or already cemented?) the reputation as the new 'Alban Berg Quartet' on the block: Precise, accurate, bold - only more so.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
DG
Release: 1988
2 CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
DG (Grand Prix)
Release: 2007
2 CDs

US | UK | DE










Endellion Quartet
(1989?-1991?)

Andrew Watkinson, Ralph De Souza, Garfield Jackson, David Waterman

An incomplete cycle from the Endellion Quartet which was evidently intended to go all the way but then didn't (for reasons I do not know) but was issued as a set all the same, along with the 44 Duos for 2 violins.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
4 String Quartets & 44 Duos
Virgin
Release: 2003
2 CDs

US | UK | DE






Euclid Quartet
(2008/2011)

Jameson Cooper, Jacob Murphy, Luis Enrique Vargas, Si-Yan Darren Li

Recorded at Goshen College's Saude Concert Hall which makes this possibly the most Mennonite Bartók SQ4t-cycle out there. By Ohioans for Ohioans and beyond.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
SQ4ts 1, 3, 5
Artek
Release: 2013
1 CD

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
SQ4ts 2, 4, 6
Artek
Release: 2010
1 CD

US | UK | DE








The Fine Arts Quartet
(1959)

Leonard Sorkin, Abram Loft, Irving Ilmer, Geroge Sopkin

A pioneering cycle from what was, for a few decades, Chicago's premiere string quartet. Made for and performed on "The National Educational Television Series". The Music & Arts release includes a half-hour discussion of the musicians of the first quartet.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Music & Arts
Release: 2006
3 CDs


US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Conoissuers Society
Release: 1958
3 LPs



available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Concert Disc
Release: 1958
3 LPs





Guarneri Quartet
(1974-1976)

Arnold Steinhardt, John Dalley, Michael Tree, David Soyer

This is the RCA (Sony) recording of the Guarneri Quartet, re-released on the Dutch Newton Label that unearthed many such slightly-off-the-beaten-path-but-beloved treasures. That's no longer in print, but ArkivMusic has this available as part of its on-demand CDR releases. Certainly idiosyncratic performances with some sound-issues but beloved by many, precisely because of the quartet's pointed take of the music. Jed Distler's ClassicsToday review here

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Newton Classics
Release: 2012
2 CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
RCA/Arkiv Music
Release: on demand
2 CDRs

US | UK | DE









Hagen Quartett
(1995/98)

Lukas Hagen, Rainer Schmidt, Veronika Hagen, Clemens Hagen

Hagen-typical analytical, clean, but not devoid of ferocious moments. When it came out, Gramophone's Rob Cowan deemed it a set to stand along those of Julliard (II), Takacs, Vegh, and Emerson. Swoop up a used copy if you find one!
available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
DG
Release: 2000
2 CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Newton Classics
Release: 2010
2 CDs

US | UK | DE









The Heath Quartet I
(2016)

Oliver Heath, Cerys Jones, Gary Pomeroy, Christopher Murray

I first heard the fine Heath Quartet at the ARD Competition in 2008 where their Brahms, Ligeti (in Round 2) and Wolf (Semis) blew me away. I quipped, back then, that they might instead call themselves “The Heaves & Pomerray Quartet”, which would be eccentric in a neatly British way, democratically incorporating the names of the violist Pomeroy, second violin Rebecca Eves, and cellist Christopher Murray. Incidentally, the name would still have worked even after they had a change at second violin. In any case, they are as good a 'middle way' as there is in these quartets, precise not clinical, involved not swarthy, neither folksy nor modernist. In doing so, it might miss either predilection of the potential listener or serve as the perfect color balance to compare any other version to. If you want your Bartók quartets to reek a bit of gasoline and have hair-standing-on-ends moments, this is not your cycle.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Harmonia Mundi
Release: 2017
2 CDs

US | UK | DE











Hungarian String Quartet I
(1961)

Zoltan Szekely, Michael Kuttner, Denes Koromzay, Gabriel Magyar

First released in 1962, this is the famous and popular go of the Hungarian String Quartet at the Bartók-cycle. For many, this still appears to be a revelation; others suggest it's ho-hum and overrated. There are at least three other Bartók -recordings of the group, but they (Nos.3, 5, 6, starting from 1946) don't amount to a cycle. Although founded in 1935 as the "New Hungarian String Quartet", they are in fact not the same band we now know as the quartet by that latter name, which was in turn founded in 1972, when the original ("New-then-not-New") Hungarian Quartet disbanded. To make matters more confusing still, the two groups share the same violist, and the New-New Hungarians also recorded a cycle in 1976 (for Vox, see below) .

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
DG
Release: 1999
2 CDs

US | UK | DE











Jerusalem Quartet
(2015-2019)

Alexander Pavlovsky, Sergei Bresler, Ori Karn, Kyril Zlotnikov

The Jerusalem Quartet's cycle, four years in the making, complete as of 2020. I've admired this group whenever I heard them at the Library of Congress (and weren't interrupted by political fire alarms). They were and presumably still are up to everything you'd expect from a modern string quartet in terms of accuracy while also offering plenty of fire and a warm, romantic core. In his Gramophone review, Richard Bratby credits them with sounding "effortlessly, luminously beautiful."

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets 1, 3, 5
Harmonia Mundi
Release: 2020
1 CD

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets 2, 4, 6
Harmonia Mundi
Release: 2016
1 CD

US | UK | DE











Juilliard Quartet I
(1950)

Robert Mann, Robert Koff, Raphael Hillyer, Arthur Winograd

Set Number 1 for the then three-year-old Juilliard Quartet. Monaural.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Pearl
Release: 2001
2 CDs

US | UK | DE











Juilliard Quartet II
(1963)

Robert Mann, Isidore Cohen, Raphael Hillyer, Claus Adam

The second Juilliard Bartók cycle - from 1963 - and by critical consensus their most successful one. (Jed Distler's ClassicsToday review, for example, here.) And yes, it's stunningly zany; all but the best cycles sound polite and tame, compared to it. Sample the Allegro of the first quartet, stridence and all, to get a taste of this. The cycle was and remains a little tricky to come by, on CD (especially in the US), but there have been a few releases and between them, one should be able to pick up a copy. The only bummer is the splitting of the 4th Quartet to fit the cycle on two CDs. The only re-issue that avoids this is the one on British RetrSpective Recordings (2001), but good luck finding that. (Then again, allegedly the remastering on that one is shoddy.) An interesting disc is this compilation of three Bartok Quartets (3, 4, 6), one each from their three cycles.


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Sony Europe
Release: 2002
2 CDs

US | UK | DE



available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Sony France
Release: 2007
2 CDs

US | UK | DE



available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Sony/Arkiv
Release: 2010
2 CDRs

US | UK | DE





Juilliard Quartet III
(1981)

Robert Mann, Earl Carlyss, Samuel Rhodes, Joel Krosnick

...and Juilliard Bartók-cycle number three. These digital recordings were made in May of 1981, at 30th Street Studio in New York. And still, the 4th quartet is split thanks to the insistence of putting these quartets into chronological order onto 2 CDs. Here, for the 3-disc version, you have to look to Sony Japan's "The Excellent Library" Edition.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Sony Essential Classics
Release: 1997
2 CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Sony Japan
Release: 2013
3 CDs

US | UK | DE








Keller Quartet
(1993/94)

András Keller, János Pilz, Zoltán Gál, Ottó Kertész

András Keller, of the Keller Quartet, is a Sándor Végh student (and a very fine conductor, these days!) and these recordings were made at the same Salle de musique de la Chaux-de-Fonds where the Vegh Quartet recorded their second (stereo) cycle that is one of the absolute reference sets. That's also true for this one, which is all meat and natural ease in excellent sonics... and perhaps one of the nowadays most underrated cycles out there.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Erato
Release: 1995
2 CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Warner Apex
Release: 2006
2 CDs

US | UK | DE



available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Erato Ultima
Release: 1998
2 CDs

US | UK | DE






Lindsay Quartet
(1980-1981)

Peter Cropper, Ronald Birks, Roger Bigley, Bernard Gregor-Smith

When it came out on ASV LPs, this was - beating the Juilliard's third recording to the punch - the first digitally recorded cycle of these quartets... which was important then but nowadays almost serves as a warning. (Actually, the sound is perfectly fine, embedded as the players are into the generous acoustic of the Rosslyn Hill Chapel.) They were also considered something of a hybrid; a western quartet but Hungarian-trained. The Lindsays are not the last word in precision, but their mix of lyricism and bite - with a pleasing whiff of old motor oil - turns out to hold up surprisingly well, some 40+ years later. It certainly beats some of the more anodyne efforts of technically more gifted quartets from the last decade.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets
ASV
Release: 1988
3 CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets
Decca Eloquence
Release: 2021
3 CDs

US | UK | DE







Mari Iwamoto String Quartet
(1966)


Aeolian Quartet: Mari Iwamoto, Hiroaki Tomoda, Junji Suganuma, Toshio Kuronuma

The only thing I know about this release is that it exists and that it was recorded at the Nihon Toshi Center Hall, a multi-purpose concert hall that was located in Hirakawacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo which existed until 1996. These quartets were recorded for the Nippon Broadcasting System, live, over two evenings. Apparently, the 4th movement of Quartet No.5 was cut due to broadcast time and the tapes were in such modest condition that even remastering could not do much to improve. Issued to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Nippon Broadcasting System. Does include 4 arrangements from Bartok's Mikrokosmos, though. Still, perhaps not your first choice then. But don't worry, it appears even hard to get in Japan.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets
King International
Release: 2020
2 CDs

JP
| HMV Japan










Mikrokosmos String Quartet
(2008)

Gábor Takács-Nagy, Zoltán Tuska, Sándor Papp, Miklos Perényi

What a lineup of players! Gábor Takács-Nagy and Miklos Perényi alone make this one of the most intriguing cycles I don't own. Must investigate. On SACD for those who care. But sadly it also appears to be out of print. :-( (It is, happily, available in the Naxos Music Library.) If you have comments on this set, please do below or on Twitter.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets
Hungaroton
Release: 2009
2 SACDs

US | UK | DE










New Budapest Quartet
(1992)

András Kiss, Ferenc Balogh, László Bársony, Károly Botvay

The New Budapest Quartet (1971-2005), not to be mistaken for the New Hungarian Quartet or, presumably, the original Budapest Quartet who famously recorded the Beethoven Quartets. They recorded lots for Marco Polo. Review on MusicWeb here; Gramophone review here.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Hyperion
Release: 1993
2 CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Hyperion Dyad
Release: 1996
2 CDs

US | UK | DE








New Hungarian Quartet
(1976)

Andor Toth Jr., Richard Young, Denes Koromzay, Andor Toth Jr.

Another "New" quartet from Hungary, the New Hungarian Quartet has one link to the vaunted Hungarian Quartet, namely the violist Andor Toth and was based out of the Oberlin Conservatory and later the quartet in residence at the Taos School of Music, NM. They recorded the Bartók Quartets for Vox (1976), which were then re-released on Pantheon.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Pantheon
Release: 1988
3 CDs

US | UK | DE











New Zealand String Quartet
(1998?)

Helen Phol, Doug Beilman, Gillian Ansell, Rolf Gjelsten

What can you say about the New Zealand String Quartet but that they are decidedly the most down-under group to have recorded the Bartók quartets. Founded in 1987, they were appointed the quartet-in-residence at Victoria University, Wellington, in 1991. As per the above-linked Wikipedia entry, they are New Zealand's only full-time string quartet. They've done some fine work for Naxos but their Bartók was originally recorded for Manu / Ode Records and most recently re-issued on Atoll Records. Also they have a functioning website. At 35, they're still going strong. Follow them on Instragram, for chrissake.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets
Atoll Records
Release: 2009
2 CDs

US | UK | DE













Novák Quartet
(1965)

Antonín Novák, Dušan Pandula, Jaroslav Chovanec, Josef Podjukl

The Novák Quartet was a Czech string quartet named after the composer Vítězslav Novák. Originally founded in 1946 as the "Hába-Quartett" (after the equally Czech composer Alois Hába (a quarter-tone employing modern[ist] composer who was deemed a "formalist") by Czech violinist Dušan Pandula, it had to be renamed due to pressure from the communist regime in the 1950s. In their days, they recorded widely for Supraphon and East Germany's Eterna (or were those licenses?) but were picked up by Philips for the whole Bartók and some Beethoven.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Philips DUO
Release: 1994
2 CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Philips DUO Korea/Japan?
Release: 1996?
2 CDs

US | UK | DE





>


Párkányí Quartet
(1976-1985)

István Párkányi, Heinz Oberdorfer, Ferdinand Erblich, Michael Müller

The Párkányi Quartet's cycle on SACDs. ClassicsToday review here. Out of print. The disc with quartets 3 & 4 includes Leo Weiner's third string quartet.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets 1 & 2
Praga Digitals
Release: 2009
SACD

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets 3 & 4 +
Praga Digitals
Release: 2009
SACD

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets 5 & 6
Praga Digitals
Release: 2009
SACD

US | UK | DE






Penderecki Quartet
(200?)

Jeremy Bell, Jerzy Kaplanek, Christine Vlajk, Paul Pulford / Simon Fryer

The Penderecki String Quartet was founded in Poland in 1986 and attained its current name with the blessing of Krzysztof Penderecki after winning the Penderecki Prize at the National Chamber Music Competition in Łódź with a performance of the composer's 2nd string quartet. The Bartók link comes courtesy of having studied with Zoltán Szekély and Denes Koromzay of the Hungarian String Quartet. They have since come to reside in Canada (they've been the Quartet-in-Residence at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, since 1991) which makes this the first ever all-Canadian recording of the Bartók cycle of string quartets before the Orford and Alkan Quartets mentioned above. I'm stalling. I know nothing about these performances.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets
Eclectra
Release: 2005
2 CDs

US | UK | DE













Quatuor Parrenin
(1956 or 57?)

Jacques Parrenin, Marcel Charpentier, Serge Collot, Pierre Penassou

We continue with Bartók I am ignorant about. The Quatuor Parennin was founded in 1942 and spent its first seven years as the quartet-in-residence of Radio Luxembourg. It then began its international career while continuing to focus on contemporary music: They premiered more than 150 works over the course of their career... and of course, Bartók would have still been contemporary music in their early years. Among its members in the later years was violist Gérard Caussé, which isn't shabby at all. First violinist Jacques Parrenin died in 2010. Their recordings of the Bartók quartets were issued on Westminster (and RCA Rockaway in the US and Vega, in France) in 1957 and re-issued on CD (Adès) 30 years later. There was a box available, but I couldn't find a good cover picture yet. If you have one, let me know! Volumes 1 and 2 are still reasonably available.

available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets vol.1
Adès
Release: 1987
1 CD

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets vol.2
Adès
Release: 1993
1 CD

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Adès
Release: 1987
3 CDs







Ragazze Quartet
(2018-2020?)

Jeanita Vriens-van Tongeren, Rosa Arnold Violoncello, Annemijn Bergkotte, Rebecca Wise

A very recent recording from the (all female, if that's still worth mentioning) Ragazze Quartet from the Netherlands on the terrific Channel Classic label. Rob Cowan in Gramophone magazine says of vol.1 admiringly that the "Ragazze Quartet certainly cut[s] the mustard" and of vol.2 that it "is, if anything, even finer than the first" and while you would "need the Emerson, the Tokyo Quartet’s first recording or the early Juilliard for "dotting Is and crossing Ts", for "the Ragazze Quartet catching the mood is everything [...] and that’s where I’m happy to stay." High praise, indeed, although I would like to hear a little more tooth in these fine, rather elegant readings.

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Béla Bartók
String Quartets vol.1
Channel Classics
Release: 2019
1 CD

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
String Quartets vol.2
Channel Classics
Release: 2021
1 CD

US | UK | DE










Ramor Quartet
(1983-1989)

Andreas Sándor, Erwin Ramor, Vera Nogrady, Zoltan Thirring

The Hungarian Ramor Quartet's Bartók recordings were issued on Vox in mono in 1960 and in stereo a year later. They have since appeared on the Swiss Tuxedo label and, as downloads only (?), on Denon. Presto Music offers MP3 and FLAC downloads. ..

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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
VOX
Release: 1960/61
3 LPs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Tuxedo Music
Release: 1991
3 CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Denon
Release: 2000
3 CDs / Amazon Mp3s

US | UK | DE






Rubin Quartet
(2003)

Irmgard Zavelberg, Tinta Schmidt von Altenstadt, Sylvie Altenburger, Ulrike Zavelberg

Brilliant recorded the Dutch (also all-female) Rubin Quartet for their cycle. It's been reviewed on MusicWeb.

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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Brilliant
Release: 2004
3 CDs

US | UK | DE














Takács Quartet I
(1983?)

Gábor Takács-Nagy, Károly Schranz, Gábor Ormai, András Fejér

Here comes the Takács Quartet's Bartók, at last: A consensus pick for the finest set of Bartók quartets recorded. The only question is: The original line-up on Hungaroton as it was formed in 1975 at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest by four students at the institute - or the great second line-up on Decca? While it's generally the latter that gets the nod, this is still very much worth seeking out. Hard copy-wise, the point is half mute while the Hungaroton is out of print, but it's available on the Naxos Music Library and probably elsewhere, online. The Gramophone review from the review of the LPs is interesting. Arnold Whittall suggests: "I do wonder whether the Takacs are yet ready for the challenge of the compete cycle: in particular, whether they have yet played enough Beethoven. Add to this a recording which often lacks body as well as sufficient clarity in balance, and the result—despite occasional moments of excellence—is a disappointment.'" Well, well.

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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Hungaroton
Release: 1984
3 CDs

US | UK | DE













Takács Quartet II
(1996)

Edward Dusinberre, Károly Schranz, Roger Tapping, András Fejér

The very quantity of sets on this list suggests, rightly, that there can't be "one cycle to rule them all". But this one comes as close as it gets. It combines the rhythmic, musically sanguineous "Vegh-style" approach with the technical perfection of the Juilliard I, Hagen, or Tokyo (DG) sets. The Gramophone review at the time already suggested that this set "communicates Bartok’s all-embracing humanity, and if the greatest string quartets after Beethoven are still unknown to you, then this new set may well prove the musical journey of a lifetime." It's only risen in stature, since, and remains the touchstone set to judge all others against, even if it turns not out to be your absolute favorite. Our ionarts review here: Dip Your Ears, No.8. Yes, you have to have heard this! Three of these quartets are also available, more or less, on DVD.


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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Decca
Release: 1998
2 CDs

US | UK | DE













Talich Quartet I
(1980?-1982)

Petr Messerieur, Jan Kvapil, Jan Talich, Evžen Rattay

The fabulous Talich Quartet recorded a cycle for Supraphon towards the end of the LP era which hasn't made it onto CD (yet).

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Béla Bartók
String Quartets 1 & 2
Supraphon
Release: 1983
1 LP
US (mp3)




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Béla Bartók
String Quartets 3 & 4
Supraphon
Release: 1983
1 LP



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Béla Bartók
String Quartets 5 & 6
Supraphon
Release: 1983
1 LP







Tátrai Quartet I
(~1957?)

Vilmos Tátrai, Mihály Szűcs, József Iványi , Ede Banda

The Tátrai Quartet was founded in 1946 and won the won first prize at the Bartók String Quartet Competition in 1948 and in 1955, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Bartók's death, they were the first ensemble to perform all six of Bartók's string quartets were in Hungary. Their first recorded cycle (mono) came out in 1958 on Qualiton and was never re-issued on CD. A stereo set was later issued as part of Hungaroton's Bartók Edition in 1967 and re-issued on Vinyl in the US on Dover. (See below.)

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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Qualiton
Release: 1958
3 LPs

US | UK | DE













Tátrai Quartet II
(1966)

Vilmos Tátrai, Mihály Szűcs, György Konrád,Ede Banda

This is the Tátrai Quartet's second cycle (see also above), now in stereo, recorded in 1966 (the Divertimento, which is also included, was recorded two years before that) and later re-issued on CD. There had only been one line-up change at this point: György Konrád had replaced József Iványi on viola. This set was also included in the (oop) Bartók Chamber Works Edition on Hungarton. Lively, toothy, but also intricate and slender, sophisticated readings.

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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Hungaroton
Release: 1997
3 CDs

US | UK | DE














Tokyo String Quartet I
(1975-1980)

Koichiro Harada, Kikuei Ikeda, Kazuhide Isomura, Sadao Harada

When I created this survey with the html code from the Beethoven String Quartet Cycle Survey as my template, these Tokyo Quartet's DG recordings landed on the spot that, for Beethoven, had been held by the Emerson Quartet (which was listed chronologically) and for which the only comment was: "The Perfectionists". I could have just let that comment stand for this recording. It initially came out on LPs in 1981 and won the "Deutscher Schallplattenpreis". They were playing Amati instruments from the collection of the Library of Congress and recorded in London and New York. This cycle would be followed up with another one (see below) on RCA, but it is the DG cycle that remains the top choice for this type of interpretation which is, and especially was at the time, squeaky clean, with all technical challenges mastered with seeming ease. Definitely one to hear! Currently best available on the Eloquence re-issue. The Gramophone review (of both, the Tokyo and the Novak quartets) concluded that "when the cards are down and a final reckoning to hand, the Tokyo have the edge: their searing intensity, acute sense of colour and total commitment to each score combine for maximum impact which, if you don't already know the music, can't fail to win you over." Someone also commented on their pizzicato-playing sounding a lot like the .

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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
DG Eloquence
Release: 2013
2 CDs

US | UK | DE


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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
DG 20th Century Ed.
Release: 19??
3 CDs

US | UK | DE


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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
DG Gramophone Awards
Release: 2004
3 CDs

US | UK | DE


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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
DG Japan "Chamber Music Best"
Release: 1992
3 CDs

JP 2003 | JP 2010


Tokyo String Quartet II
(1995?)

Peter Oundjian, Kikuei Ikeda, Kazuhide Isomura, Sadao Harada

For RCA, the Tokyo String Quartet, now with Peter Oundjian on first violin, recorded the Bartók quartets again, issued together with the Janáček quartets. To quote the Gramophone review: "...Comparing the new Tokyo set with the earlier one reveals a slight easing of manner and considerable differences between the leader of the original Bartok set (Koichiro Harada) and his successor (Peter Oundjian) – Harada parading the sweeter tone, Oundjian, the more fiery temperament. The two recordings are very different, too, RCA’s preferring a realistic ‘small concert-hall’ perspective to DG’s more enclosed – and therefore more intimate – acoustic. As to overall interpretation, the earlier set is tighter, more emphatic, and rather more revealing of inner detail..." More energy is actually not a bad thing; perhaps the problem is that yet more energy can be had elsewhere, and the Tokyo's appeal is precisely that aloof way in which they read their Bartók.

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Béla Bartók + Janáček
The String Quartets
RCA
Release: 1996
3 CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók + Janáček
The String Quartets
RCA Japan
Release: 1996
2 CDs

JP | UK | DE | FR










Quatuor Végh I
(1954)

Sándor Végh, Sándor Zöldy, Georges Janzer, Paul Szabo

The Végh Quartet. The Mamas & the Papas of raw, musical, "authentic", rhythmically vivacious old world (portamento and all) performances. The anti-Juilliards (or, compared to modern performers, the anti-Emerson). This is not a dig at the latter, just an (apt) generalization of the respective general nature of these ensembles. Although I prefer their second recording (see below), if you want to get ultra-authentic, there's something to be said about going for these 1954 mono recordings, despite the noise that the LP transfers invariably offer. Feeling is placed before intonation, yes, but the dividends are considerable. The set had come out on a number of labels: on Columbia in the UK, on Angel in the US and has been re-released on CD first by Music & Arts and most recently by Praga Digitals.

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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Music & Arts
Release: 2005
2 CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Praga Digitals
Release: 2016
2 CDs

US | UK | DE










Quatuor Végh II
(1972)

Sándor Végh, Sándor Zöldy, Georges Janzer, Paul Szabo

18 years after their mono set, the Végh Quartet returned, with the same line-up, and recorded them again, in stereo. The set immediately garnered a "Deutscher Schallplattenpreis" and a "Grand Prix du Disque". It came out on Erato & Valois in France, on Telefunken in Germany, on Musical Heritage Society in the US, then on Valois on CD, and most recently on Naïve, which is the only currently available release on CD. Nothing beats this for intensity and flavor, not even the Takács Quartet, although the latter have more bite, greater execution, and better sound. A must-have Bartók set all the same, if you'll have more than two.


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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Naïve
Release: 2001
3 CDs


US | UK | DE













Vermeer Quartet
(2003-2004)

Shmuel Ashkenasi, Mathias Tacke, Richard Young, Marc Johnson

Naxos got into the game with the Vermeer Quartet which was released in 2005 and garnered the group its 3rd Grammy nomination, for whatever that's worth. Jed Distler's review on ClassicsToday opens with faint praise: "Solid performances and sonic excellence place the Vermeer Quartet’s Bartók Quartets near the top among budget-priced recommendations." Although, in truth, it's hardly a budget proposition anymore, given the many re-releases of other sets that have come before it.

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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Naxos
Release: 2005
2 CDs

US | UK | DE
















Vertavo String Quartet
(1999/2000)

Øyvor Volle, Annabelle Meare, Berit Cardas, Bjørg Lewis

Norwegian Bartók: The Vertavo String Quartet was founded in Hamar in 1984. Their recording got a withering review on Gramophone ("[Were the] competition... less keen... then these... shortcomings might have been tolerable. But Bartók’s quartets demand taut ensemble and precision. ‘Freedom’ is all well and good if it’s of the kind that the Végh Quartet have on offer‚ where coordination‚ timing and rhythm are rarely‚ if ever‚ compromised. But here‚ a sense of awkwardness tends to put you on your guard..." Ouch. Gorgeous cover, though!

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Béla Bartók
The String Quartets
Simax
Release: 2001
2 CDs

US | UK | DE















bartok string quartets cycle complete overview, complete bartok string quartets Béla Bartók

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