Béla Bartók (1881-1945) wrote his middle two quartets in quick succession in 1927 and 1928, the first performances of which were by the Waldbeuer-Kerpely Quartet. The Third Quartet (London, 19 February 1929) lasts a little over the quarter hour, and is in four short movements. During a hushed opening the Párkányi impress immediately with evidence of years of experience, excellent ensemble and that listening to one another which results almost from mind-reading. This quartet “reveals the dodecaphonic temptation” but its architecture also contains the Magyar form of slow-fast two-part construction. The “night music” is difficult to bring off and the Párkányi show how successfully this can be done. The second movement is gritty material, harsh even, and uses avant-garde effects – be prepared for glissandi, flageolet tones (flute-like overtones). The recapitulation is not a simple regurgitation of material – it reappears in various delirious and ghostly forms. Again, the Párkányi’s control of the material is notable and the Hungarian flavour is made organically.
The Fourth Quartet, first performed in Budapest on 20 March 1929, is “the most weighted down in terms of polyphonic density” and is more outgoing in flavour. The first movement does use elements of whole tone writing becoming more chordal, the second movement at half the length is very quick and delicate, dance-like, too, with imitations of other instruments particularly successfully done here. In a longer third movement Bartók sets his night music scene, again with pentatonic flavours of Hungarian folk tunes. The short and swift pizzicato fourth movement has the Párkányi producing the percussive effects without over-egging the mixture. The last movement mirrors the first in many ways, echoing themes with dance rhythms.
Leo Weiner, whose dates are 1885-1960 (the booklet gives him Bartók’s dates in most instances), was far better known than Bartók early on in his career, due to his prize-winning leading to European fame. His Third Quartet from 1938 harks back to a much earlier time than Bartók’s from ten years previously, the inspiration containing folk tune and rhythm being a common factor. The Párkányi play this pleasant, easy to listen to music with much affection, and plump Romantic tone.
This issue completes the Bartók cycle by the Párkányi Quartet, and a very satisfying cycle it is, too. It competes very well with the Emersons – who from memory feel more human – the Takacs whom I enjoy, too, and the older recording on DGG by the Hungarian Quartet which also retains my affections. While the Párkányi spread to three discs but include the Weiner, the others fit comfortably on two. On the other hand, this is the first cycle on SACD and the recording quality is quite superb. While any of the above would make an excellent choice, this cycle by the Párkányi Quartet is extremely fine, highly recommended and very well worth considering for the extra bonus of superb high-resolution surround and stereo sound.
— Peter Joelson