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Thread: Greatest Hungarian String Quartets

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Default Greatest Hungarian String Quartets

    Hungary is to the String Quartet what Russia is to the pianist. For whatever reason, this place is a hotbed for great string players and ensembles. Possibly because Haydn, the virtual founder of the genre, spent many of his formative years living within its borders? I don't know the real reason, but there are indeed many great string quartets emerging from the great nation in question. Off the top of my head, there's the Takács, the Hungarian SQ, the Budapest SQ, the New Budapest Quartet, the Végh Quartet, the Haydn Quartet Budapest, and the Kodály Quartet. I'm sure I'm missing many, and would appreciate any corrections!

    Who are your favorites? I really like the Takács and Kodály quartets, but am not too familiar with some of the classics.

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    Janacek
    Smetana
    Vlach (the original with Josef Vlach, not the one on Naxos)
    Tatrai
    Budapest
    Ramor

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    Senior Member Art Rock's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Janacek
    Smetana
    Vlach (the original with Josef Vlach, not the one on Naxos)
    Tatrai
    Budapest
    Ramor
    The Janacek and Smetana are (not surprisingly) Czech.

    The only ones that came to mind reading the OP's title were the Kodaly and Budapest, both already mentioned. I have a lot of CD's from the Kodaly on Naxos, good stuff.
    Last edited by Art Rock; Jul-12-2019 at 07:33.
    Allüberall und ewig blauen licht die Fernen! Ewig ... ewig ...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Art Rock View Post
    The Janacek and Smetana are (not surprisingly) Czech.


    .
    Well . . . Even better!
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jul-12-2019 at 11:14.

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    The Vlach Quartet is/was Czech too.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Janacek
    Smetana
    Vlach (the original with Josef Vlach, not the one on Naxos)
    Tatrai
    Budapest
    Ramor
    No love for the Hungarian Quartet (Szekely, Kuttner, Koromzay, Magyar)? They recorded excellent Beethoven and Mozart.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by joen_cph View Post
    The Vlach Quartet is/was Czech too.
    And the Budapest, although founded by three Hungarians, was composed almost entirely of Russians after 1932.

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    Though it was founded in Amsterdam in 1976, the Orlando Quartet is sometimes thought of as a continuation of the Hungarian SQ tradition, since their first violinist, István Párkányi, was Hungarian, and they trained with the Budapest & Végh Quartets in their early years. In the late 1970s & early 80s, the Orlandos were considered one of the finest quartets in the world, and made a series of exceptional recordings of string quartets by Schubert, Mozart, Haydn, Debussy, Ravel, Dvorak, and Mendelssohn, for the Philips label. Then Párkányi left the group in 1984, and was replaced by the Australian violinist, John Harding, who left the group in 1990 and was replaced by the Norwegian violinist, Arvid Engegård. In 1997, the Orlando Quartet disbanded. A lesser known 1995 recording by Orlandos on the Emergo label of Haydn's Op. 64 quartets (nos. 4, 5, & 6), with Engegård, is remarkable (along with the Orlando's earlier Haydn disc for Philips, with Párkányi): https://www.amazon.com/String-Quarte...c&sr=1-2-fkmr0. With Harding, the Orlandos recorded a fine set of Mozart's 6 String Quintets, with violist Nobuko Imai, on the BIS label: https://www.amazon.com/Mozart-Quinte...SIN=B00KRTGOWM.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTKs...vrpDRCe6LBMQsI
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPwc...KijvXQIExf49MY
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suNj...gfHWPm6vy1weZc
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDwT...0RE6BYQmYB27-E
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nood...TXqkDtp1GaVeJE

    Years later, the group reformed as the Párkányi Quartet, with István Párkányi once again their 1st violinist, while cellist Stefan Metz was replaced by Michael Müller. As the Párkányi Quartet, the former Orlandos made more wonderful recordings (this time on hybrid SACD), such as their Haydn Op. 54 set, a Bartok cycle, and the Debussy & Ravel SQs, along with a chamber music series devoted to composer Julius Röntgen. They play with more tonal heft than is customary for groups today, and I find that an attractive quality in certain music. For example, the Párkányi's recording of the Debussy & Ravel SQs on hybrid SACD is a great favorite of mine (see link below). I had hoped that the following Beethoven recording would be the beginning of a new Párkányi Beethoven cycle, but alas, the group called it quits soon after: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wecB...jUeHH6g4BQHO4a

    https://www.amazon.com/String-Quarte...s=music&sr=1-9
    https://www.amazon.com/French-Hungar...s=music&sr=1-8
    https://www.amazon.com/Haydn-String-...s=music&sr=1-5
    https://www.amazon.com/Haydn-String-...s=music&sr=1-4
    https://www.amazon.com/Haydn-String-...s=music&sr=1-7
    https://www.amazon.com/Tchaikovsky-S...s=music&sr=1-2

    Another fine Hungarian quartet is the Mikrokosmos String Quartet, who've done an exceptional Bartok cycle for Hungaroton (& thanks, CnC Bartok, for your recommendation back on Amazon!):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5dY...Ye-WpZY0vpE-Ds
    https://www.allmusic.com/album/bart%...s-mw0001958010

    I also think highly of the Takács Quartet, and especially their Haydn recordings (such as their remarkable Op. 76 & 77 sets on Decca: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5IR5Wt0yEw, but also their later Op. 71 & Op. 74 sets on Hyperion), as well as their complete Beethoven cycle, two Bartok cycles (for Hungaroton & Decca), and Brahms & Schumann. In recent decades, the group has changed personnel several times, and is now based in Boulder, Colorado, in the US. The only remaining member of the original Hungarian Takács Quartet is the cellist András Fejér, who founded the quartet in 1975 with three of his classmates at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music.

    On period instruments, the Hungarian Festetics Quartet has given us some excellent Mozart SQs and an exceptional complete Haydn SQ cycle (which is arguably the finest cycle on record), although I slightly prefer Cuarteto Casals and the Schuppanzigh Quartet in this repertory myself (who are even more remarkable, which is saying something).

    Festetics Quartet, the complete Haydn SQs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVXD..._5EZ-ftdtVZ9zE

    Among the older Hungarian groups, in the past I've enjoyed the complete Haydn cycle by the Tàtrai Quartet on Hungaroton (who recorded Bartok, Mozart, & Beethoven, as well); although their minimal use of vibrato can make the strings sound rather dry, which can be an adjustment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gp67GkY8x1w. However, I find it fascinating that an older string quartet group would play without using much vibrato, as this practice is HIP, and therefore I wonder if the Tátrai Quartet weren't carrying on a much older tradition of string playing that had been passed down to them from a pre-late Romantic age?

    As for other older quartets, I don't overly care for the legendary Budapest Quartet, especially when their instruments are out of tune. It's not just evident on their 1960 Library of Congress Beethoven recordings either, as is sometimes claimed; although yes, the Budapest's out of tune playing did become worse later in their career. Granted, during their Columbia years the Budapests were comprised of four Russian musicians, and not the original three Hungarians and a Dutchman who had built the group's reputation back in Europe during the 1920s & recorded for HMV/Victor years in the 1930s (recordings that, by the way, I've not heard).

    For example, here is the Budapest Quartet playing Debussy's String Quartet in 1958--in the Roisman, A. Schneider, Kroyt, & M. Schneider line-up, and they're badly out of tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7f7u3TbY84. A composer friend once told me that the Budapest Quartet didn't tune their instruments properly--so when you add to that the 1st violinist Joseph Roisman's later intonation problems, the group can be hard to listen to.

    The one Budapest Quartet recording that I do still play is a 1949 Schubert "Trout" Quintet, with pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski, for the wonderfully spirited playing from both Horszowski & the quartet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ow7kr-MflMg.

    As for the Végh Quartet, I remember the old Penguin Guide thought highly of their late Bartok cycle (which I haven't listened to in decades, so I shouldn't comment). In Beethoven, I can find their ensemble rough at times. For example, the Vegh's late Beethoven quartets are profoundly beautiful in the slow movements, but their ensemble can get messy in the more difficult movements. I used to think the Veghs must have reached a point in their later years when they were simply too old, but then I heard their 1952 mono Beethoven cycle, and found it had some of the same deficiencies as their later Beethoven cycle: Here, for example, is the Vegh's 1952 Grosse Fugue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwEvvmE5ov0, & the later 1972 recording of the same, which is maybe slightly better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rkuu2-1XNcEe.

    For the sake of comparison, here too is the Grosse Fugue played more in tune and with a better, more cohesive ensemble by the Alban Berg Quartet, on their studio EMI recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ysH...DYjQ5M&index=6

    In contrast, the Budapest Quartet makes the music sound like it was composed by an incompetent composer of questionable sanity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7qveNTEgm4

    Fortunately, over the past four decades or so, we've been living in a golden age for string quartet playing, and the technical standards have risen in comparison to some of these earlier groups. Which is not to say that there weren't great older quartet groups, who could play brilliantly, as there were. (For example, I'm a big fan of violinist Adolf Busch & co., as well as the Smetana Quartet, and Quartetto Italiano.)

    But I've never explored the recordings by the old Hungarian Quartet, during the years when 1st violinist Zoltán Székely led the group, and that is something I intend to do to, at some point, especially the two Beethoven cycles (mono 1953 & stereo 1960s). Interestingly, a New Hungarian Quartet was formed in 2018, and judging by samplings on You Tube, they sound quite good. Like the Tatrai Quartet, they use minimal to no vibrato (on first impression), so I gather this is indeed an older Hungarian string tradition? Can someone tell me if the old Hungarian Quartet likewise played with a reduced or minimal vibrato?, as the New Hungarian Quartet has claimed they are playing in a tradition established by the older group.

    New Hungarian Quartet:

    Schubert Last String Quartets 12-15: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoAmLRZdqzk
    Bartok SQ no. 5: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zf2KW9XZ-oQ
    Beethoven Grosse Fugue, Op. 133: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOQgRYtpO1Q
    Last edited by Josquin13; Jul-13-2019 at 10:02.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Josquin13 View Post
    But I've never explored the recordings by the old Hungarian Quartet, during the years when 1st violinist Zoltán Székely led the group, and that is something I intend to do to, at some point, especially the two Beethoven cycles (mono 1953 & stereo 1960s).
    Grab the older monaural cycle while it's cheap:

    beethoven_hungarians.jpg

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    ^That's on my list... may be the next Beethoven quartet cycle I go for. The only complete cycle I have is the Colorado String Quartet, a totally digital, relatively recent recording. I think the above would provide a good contrast.

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    wkasimer writes, "Grab the older monaural cycle while it's cheap" (the Hungarian SQ)

    Thanks, I've just now ordered it--you were right, the price is attractive (on Amazon US).

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    xsvcdm nzxs\.l,bzs\d,klvc s|zV BZN
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jul-17-2019 at 14:59.

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