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In Reply to: RE: Stand your ground, Ivan! The Bartok Quartets are wildly overrated IMHO! posted by Chris from Lafayette on June 09, 2017 at 09:52:21
. . . the way that sing-song-ey children's theme breaks out in the middle of the last movement of the Fifth Quartet is one of my all-time wince-inducing moments in all of classical music! ;-)
Chris, bite your tongue, you foul man, you ;-) I am a die hard Bartok fan and believe his String Quartets are the finest (sans Beeethoven possibly). Just my amateur opinion. Ranking my favorite SQ composers:
2. Shostakovich (sorry again, Chris)
Regarding Bartok's SQ, I enjoy the Vegh, Tokyo and Hungarian. Just my 2 cents.
life; not until he digested all the B's and even Mahler. So Chris should feel defensive. : )
But there's not a single one of those six works that compares well with a masterpiece like the Prokofiev Second. ;-)
"sophistication" leaves Prokofiev in the dust. And I love Prokofiev.
I take it the Flash Drive didn't arrive yet?
BTW, the context was string quartets, so naturally I thought of Kabardino-Balkar folk themes! Bartok should have used some - it would have improved things for him!
1)The Scherchen Beethoven 5th will turn out to be the most invigorating and rousing you've ever heard.
2) The Juilliard's Bartok 6th was your epiphany.
3) No one understands Mahler's 3rd better than Adler.
And this is what I found:Scherchen Beethoven 5th - check.So far, I've listened to the Scherchen Beethoven Fifth and the Julliard Bartok Fifth. I'll try to listen to more tomorrow. Please let me know by e-mail if you want me to comment about my impressions (and/or Madeline's impressions!) of these recordings. ;-)
Julliard 1949 Bartok 6th - check
Badura-Skoda / Scherchen Emperor - unexpected but it's there
Julliard 1949 Bartok 5th - another unexpected bonus
Adler Mahler 3rd - MIA (nowhere to be found!)
I thought the 1949 Julliard performances of the 5th and 6th Quartets were wonderful - amazing sound quality for that era, and the intonation and general command of the rhetoric of the two works are no less amazing! It's all the more impressive because this was a time well before the era of electronic tuners which help so many of today's string players "tune" their ears! Those Julliard players had obviously tuned their ears natur'ly! ;-)
Having said that however, I remain as before in my opinions about these works - and I think we got off the track just a bit on this element of the discussion: I like the Bartok Quartets OK, but I still think they're overrated. My favorite is probably the Sixth, because it builds its structures in a more patient, inevitable way compared to the other works, which sometimes seem to flit from one idea to another and undermine their own continuity. Well (you say), maybe that's what Bartok was after. I don't disagree - maybe it WAS what he was after. But it's certainly not always on MY wavelength. ;-)
I was playing the Fifth Quartet when Madeline came back from shopping. The fourth movement was playing as she entered the room and commented, "Ooh! Ugly!". Later on, in the fifth movement, where that little children's theme appears just before the end, she exclaimed, "OMG! That is SO lame!". Nevertheless, she was also amazed at how good those 1949 recordings were!
Regarding the Scherchen Beethoven Fifth with the RPO, I was very surprised that the articulation was so clear at the breakneck speeds he was taking (except in the second movement). Big thumbs up for this aspect of the performance! Nevertheless, I feel a lack of tonal weight in this performance/recording, and I really miss it. This missing weight of tone makes the performance sound somewhat small scaled (to me anyway). Again, the performance has some good qualities, but it wouldn't be among my faves.
Thanks all I can say at this point.
Chris, glad you took time out to take a peek at SQ 5 and 6. That little children's tune at the end of 5 has always got my attention. Not sure where that came from, but I think it is a bit of genius. Just my take on it.
You bring up a good point about lack of tonal weight. Most of Bartok quartet performances lack tonal weight. Of my roughly 20 versions of Bartok's Quartets (all on LP), only about 2 or 3 have ample low end weight, in my opinion. The performances and/or recordings do not get the cello correctly with regards to weight. This is where the Vegh (Valois or Telefunken pressing) is very very good. The Vegh cellist plays aggressively and the recording reflects this with ample weight. It makes a substantial positive difference in the performance. It would really be nice if a contemporary string quartet could record a complete set of Bartok with superb engineering and a mindful eye towards the cellist. We need more meat.
Please pass along to Ralph at your convenience.
But in all seriousness, thanks for sending it - I'll listen as soon as I can!
Yes, the Prokofiev Q 2 does have some nice folky tonality. But my goodness, such a boring approach. This is where Bartok left everyone else in the dust. Bartok was on the leading edge and in some ways, still is. He broke barriers that challenged the listener. Bartok did not succumb to a simple (or complex) repeated rhythmic theme. Rather, he mixed things up. Challenged our way of thinking about how music could be unfolded. Dissonance. Interjection. Startling infusion of cross current themes. I think Beethoven would approve.
Let me say again that I do still listen to the Bartok Quartets every so often. (Otherwise, I wouldn't have recordings of them.) But your phrase, "such a boring approach" applies more to parts of these works than to the Prokofiev Quartets - just IMHO. ;-)
And as I said before, it's not the dissonance of these (Bartok) works that bothers me. (In fact, that doesn't bother me at all.) It's more the lame placement or juxtaposition of themes sometimes (as in the example of the last movement of the Fifth Quartet I already cited) that makes me shrug my shoulders. And, strangely, I hear more of these kinds of weaknesses in his Quartets than in his other works. It's in his Quartets that I notice his curiously short-breathed compositional style (not all the time of course, but often enough to be annoying).
And your claim that Bartok didn't "succumb to a simple (or complex) rhythmic theme" is surprising, given the fact that he's known for his frequent use of ostinatos. Oh well.
I wouldn't presume to say if Beethoven would approve or not. ;-)
First off, I am not schooled in musicology. Just an avid listener who loves classical music.
Question for the musically literate: Over the past few years I become bored with the classical and romantic periods. Nothing in those eras excites me. I then started to feel around with Bartok, Weber, Schoenberg, etc. (20th century composers) who were leading the way with tonality and 12 tone. Then, over the past year, I started to become very interested in the late 20th century and 21st century chamber music. So much of the most recently composed music is quite challenging and keeps me on my toes. Never a dull moment. So, here is the question: given my formal music illiteracy, am I "missing the boat" on the classical and romantic eras because I don't know what to listen for? Is there more complexity than meets the ear? For example, to my ears and simple thinking Mozart is so monotonous and rhythmic. There is nothing to think about. Rather, its great for taking a nap in my opinion. Now, listening to Schoenberg or Shostky, I can get excited and into the ripsaw tunes, the darkness, the dissonance, etc. Maybe I am thinking about this too much and should just listen and enjoy.
In a way, you're not unlike a friend I had at work who was so excited about SACD's when they first came out that he bought a copy of the Paavo Järvi / Telarc recording of Dvorak's New World Symphony coupled with Martinu's Symphony No. 2 - even though his musical tastes in general were more along the lines of Celine Dion! After a few days, I asked him how he liked the album. He answered that he really liked the Martinu, but he felt that the Dvorak was "a little corny"!
And although there's a lot of Mozart I like a lot, there's also a lot of his music which, as one critic said, is "tiresomely, needlessly perfect"! ;-)
It's all a matter of preference, and what appeals to you at a given time. I've always been a Mahler fiend, but now I'm less interested in his music and more interested in Mozart. I used to be bored by Schubert, but now I'm addicted to some of the piano sonatas. In the last six months I have gotten very interested in Varese. I still can't stand Webern and anything 12-tone by Schoenberg, but who knows what will happen next month.
Just listen to what you like and be open to possible changes in your internal weather:}
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