Friday, September 13, 2013

Bartók: Quartet No. 6 (Hungarian Quartet, 1948)

The Hungarian String Quartet:
Zoltán Szekely, Alexandre Moszkowsky, Denes Koromzay, Vilmos Palotai
The Hungarian String Quartet, led by Bartók's friend Zoltán Szekely from 1937 to 1972, probably needs no introduction in playing the string quartets of their great compatriot, but perhaps this particular recording does.  The group's benchmark recordings of the Bartók quartets, for Deutsche Grammophon, were made in 1962, by which time the lineup pictured above had changed in both the second violin and cello chairs, so that the two recordings they made in the late 40s of Bartók's last two quartets (the other, No. 5, can be heard at the CHARM website) present a substantially different group:

Bartók: Quartet No. 6, Sz. 114 (1939)
The Hungarian String Quartet
Recorded March 21, 1948
HMV DB 9389 through DB 9392, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 70.17 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 38.86 MB)

(See the comments section for additional links, if those above give trouble.)

I obtained this set about six years ago, and made my transfer shortly thereafter, but have never put it up till now, because one of the records is cracked.  (I was, however, able to obtain the set for free, for that reason.)  The crack is from the center outwards, and is barely visible, but it is all too audible, I'm sorry to say, and affects about the last minute of the first movement and about a minute and a half in the middle of the last movement.  Nothing ClickRepair was able to do, or that I could do manually, could eliminate everything, although I managed to tame some of the more egregious thumps during quiet passages.  I present the recording anyway, because in the intervening years, no one else has come forward with it, to my knowledge, and it's too important to ignore.

Bartók's Sixth String Quartet, that brooding masterpiece haunted by the specter of upcoming war, was exceptionally well served during the 78 era, receiving no less than three recordings (four if you count the Juilliard Quartet's Columbia versions of all the Bartók quartets, which appeared simultaneously on LP and 78) - more than any other Bartók quartet.  The first was in 1946, by the Gertler Quartet on English Decca, a recording that can also be heard at the CHARM website, the second was this one by the Hungarian Quartet, and the third followed only a month later by the Erling Bloch Quartet for Danish HMV.  Here is a chronology of 78-rpm recordings of the Bartók quartets:

1927: No. 2 - Amar-Hindemith Quartet (Polydor) - available from Satyr
1934: No. 1 - Pro Arte Quartet (HMV/Victor)
1936: No. 2 - Budapest Quartet (HMV/Victor)
1940: No. 5 - Kolisch Quartet (Columbia, unissued until 1996, by Biddulph)
c. 1945: No. 4 - Guilet Quartet (Concert Hall) - available from Squirrel's Nest
1946 (March): No. 6 - Gertler Quartet (Decca)
1946 (May): No. 5 - Hungarian Quartet (HMV)
1948 (March): No. 6 - Hungarian Quartet (HMV)
1948 (April): No. 6 - Erling Bloch Quartet (Danish HMV)

Then in 1949 the Juilliard Quartet made their groundbreaking first set, which, in the opinion of most reviewers at the time, blew all the existing versions out of the water.


  1. Alternate links:

  2. Thank you for making this available. I'm currently downloading the recording now. I'm having problems downloading one of the earlier recordings though, the Side 1 of Mercury Wing MGW-14034 (MP3) does not download through filefactory.

  3. Well, if there were any thumps, they didn't bother me - great transfer of an important set that, as you say, doesn't seem to have been done by anyone else! Thank you again! Best wishes, Nick

  4. Marvellous! Had to listen really hard for the clicks; if you hadn't told of your strenuous efforts to remove them. I might never have
    noticed, expecting as I did thunderous thummps. Your usual fine

    Mike in Plovdiv

  5. Would you possibly be able to do transfers of those Juilliard SQ Bartok Quartets? That would be wonderful!

    Alan in Beaverton, OR