Brahms: String Quartet No. 2 & Bartók: String Quartet No. 1 (CD)

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Ariel Quartet

The Ariel Quartet, distinguished by their virtuosic playing and impassioned interpretations, makes their debut recording pairing two giants of the string-quartet world, Bela Bartok and Johannes Brahms.

Both composers stand as significant pillars of the youthful Quartet's two-decade-long journey. The Ariel Quartet earned its glowing international reputation early on, having formed in Israel when its members were students in middle school. The Ariel now serves as the Faculty Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music Debut. This release is the first in a projected series pairing the quartets of Bartok and Brahms.

Reviews of performances by The Arial Quartet:

"a consummate ensemble gifted with utter musicality and remarkable interpretive power" - American Record Guide

"a blazing, larger-than-life performance" - The Washington Post

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Brahms: Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2
1. I . Allegro non troppo
2. II. Andante moderato
3. III. Quasi Minuetto, moderato; Allegretto vivace
4. IV. IV. Finale: Allegro non assai

Bartók: Quartet No. 1, Sz, 40, Op. 7
5. I. Lento
6. II. Allegretto Introduzione; Allegro
7. III. Allegro vivace

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Finely honed quartet playing, but not the last word in idiomatic expression.



We live in an era of terrific string quartets. Here is another, and aside from taking part in a little-known live recording of Mendelssohn's Octet this seems to be their recording debut. The Ariel Quartet has been together for twenty years. They formed a quartet in their teens in Israel, but are now based in America.

A program combining Brahms and Bartók (even Bartók's less confrontational First Quartet) is a challenge, because these two composers are so opposed in their musical language: Brahms's warm-textured late Romanticism versus Bartók's lean-textured Modernism. If you were going for idiomatic performances, you would probably opt for the Viennese Amadeus Quartet in the Brahms and the American Emerson or Hungarian Takács Quartets in the Bartók.

The Ariel treat both pieces to the current approach of super-fine detailing and carefully worked out unanimity of expression. In the Brahms, this results in clean textures––the counterpoint of the first movement is never muddy, the finale bracing in its rhythmic drive, but the slow movement becomes a bit nondescript without an emotional centre––heart, if you like––suffusing the long melodic lines.

Predictably, the Ariel seem more attuned to Bartók's world, but even there this tendency to hold back in the occasional explosive interruption (one in particular in the second movement) leads to the feeling that the players are too well behaved.

Make no mistake, they are supremely capable musicians. There is plenty to enjoy in the cleanly recorded performances––but in Brahms and Bartók less is not necessarily more.