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MusicWeb International, December 2013

BARTOK, B.: String Quartets Nos. 1, 3, 5 (Euclid Quartet) AR-0060-2
BARTOK, B.: String Quartets Nos. 2, 4, 6 (Euclid Quartet) AR-0053-2

…the Euclids are as technically superb, texturally lucid and expressively insightful as any. Bartók himself would surely have been impressed, if not amazed, at the way they bring these hugely demanding works to life.

Overall…this Euclids’ orchard bears big juicy fruits, to which music-lovers should help themselves without further ado. © 2013 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, March 2011

As far as I can tell, the Euclid Quartet, a group new to me, has made only one previous recording; it’s on the Centaur label and contains four of 18 string quartets by a mid 20th-century Austrian composer named Hugo Kauder. The fact that I’ve never heard of him I’m sure means diddly to members of the Hugo Kauder Society, who almost certainly have never heard of me. They have cataloged more than 300 of the composer’s works, but cite the Euclid Quartet’s Centaur album as the only recording of any of his music. Fascinating.

The quartet is based in South Bend, Indiana, where the ensemble is quartet-in-residence at Indiana University and its members are on the music faculty. The players are a multinational mix hailing from the U.S., the U.K., and Venezuela. The chances of a recording containing Bartók’s even-numbered quartets being a one-off is pretty slim, so I would expect a second disc to follow containing Nos. 1, 3, and 5.

Bartók wrote his six quartets over a period of 30 years. Those on the present CD were written in 1915–17 (No. 2), 1927 (No. 4), and 1939 (No. 6). The sixth and final quartet was the last work he would write before fleeing his native Hungary for the U.S. in 1940. The sound world of the Second Quartet has roots in the dense, chromatic, “liberated” tonality of early Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. The atmosphere of the first movement is heavy and humid, and the result, according to note author Barbara Heninger, is “an otherworldly wandering through major and minor modes.” This is dispelled by the Allegro molto capriccioso that follows, a veritable Hungarian hoedown at a Gypsy encampment. The concluding Lento, austere and bleak, seems almost to anticipate the hallmark desolation in Shostakovich’s string quartets.

The Fourth Quartet is in five movements, and is considered by most commentators to be a breakthrough work that represents a new direction for the composer. Formally, the piece is extremely complex, drawing together elements of Bartók’s favored arch design, the mirroring of motivic and harmonic content, and the derivation of mathematical symmetries based on the “Golden Section,” a reference to the ideal ratio derived from numerical series and proportions. For an in-depth analysis, I would point you to a paper titled Formal Considerations in Béla Bartók’s Fourth String Quartet by Michael Ladd, accessible at

Beyond the formal aspects, the Fourth Quartet became the composer’s experimental lab for extended instrumental techniques involving mutes, glissandos, and a technique that has come to be called “Bartók” or “snap-string” pizzicato, where the player pulls upward on the string and then releases it to slap against the fingerboard. The quartet is in some ways a primer for many of the common characteristics we tend to associate with Bartók’s music: the swarming insects, for example, of the Prestissimo, con sordino movement, or the raw, barbarous stomping dance of the concluding Allegro molto.

For his Sixth and final quartet, Bartók returns to a four-movement layout, but one in which each movement begins with a Mesto introduction composed of the same motivic material. With each movement, however, the Mesto becomes successively longer until finally, in the last movement, it is no longer introductory but subsumes the movement in its entirety. This was not the composer’s original intent. His sketches tell us that he had planned to end the piece with a fast, dance-like finale, but news of his mother’s death led to his abandoning the original design and expanding the Mesto into a moving elegy.

The Euclid Quartet runs the Emerson a close race when it comes to precision of ensemble and clarity of texture, but the Euclid doesn’t quite match the Emerson in making the execution of these hair-raisingly difficult scores sound easy. Perhaps that’s a plus rather than a minus. One of the recurring criticisms one hears lodged against the Emerson is that the playing is a little too slick and clinical. While I’ve always adhered to the belief that the ideal in string playing should be one in which the bow is seen but not heard—i.e., a clean, non-abrasive sound—it could be argued that some abrasiveness in Bartók’s quartets is a good thing, that it’s in the nature of the music, and it’s what the composer would have wanted.

I’m not suggesting that the Euclid scrapes and scratches away like fingernails on a chalkboard; far from it. But the players are willing, where the music calls for it, to put a little elbow grease into the effort. The Euclid captures and reflects the wildly contrasting moods and emotional states of these works as well as any ensemble I’ve heard. When the quartets on this disc are inevitably joined by their odd-numbered companions, I believe we will have another Bartók cycle worthy of being ranked alongside the big-name groups mentioned above. Strongly recommended.

Donald Rosenberg
Gramophone, December 2010

Bartók’s quartets given performances of rare commitment and passion

The members of the Euclid Quartet, found in 1998 in Ohio, are clearly smitten with Bartók’s six masterpieces in the string quartet genre, despite their fearful demands. These works are fiendishly difficult to pull off, given the extended techniques the Hungarian composer poured onto virtually every page.

On their new recording of the even-numbered quartets, the Euclid musicians prove themselves fully up to the job. The performances are sweeping and detailed, with all of the fierce intensity the music suggests, while never resorting to tonal harshness, even when rhythms slash and pizzicatos sting. Bartók’s roots in folk material come to the surface, or hover just beneath, at many moments. As played with seamless interplay and cohesion by the Euclid musicians, the lyrical episodes are haunting musings deeply entrenched in the soil of Hungary. As the recording progresses in chronological order, the ensemble elucidates the expressive depths and technical innovations Bartók made his own. The various dance sequences have a vivid kick, and the sliding figures receive eerie shading.

Nowhere is the group more affecting than in the finale of the Sixth Quartet, Bartók’s last composition in his homeland before leaving for the U.S. In this movement, the composer’s memorial to his mother, every sorrowful line is savoured, every aching nuance considered.

Now that the Euclid has triumphed in half of the Bartók quartets, let’s hear them in the odd-numbered pieces. Their artistry brings fresh perspectives to cornerstones of the quartet repertoire.

William Bender
American Record Guide, September 2010

If I were trying to interest someone in the quartets of Béla Bartók, I would give him this album. It not only is superbly played and beautifully recorded, but it gives every indication of being the work of young musicians who have grown up with the music and speak Bartók like a second language.

The group was formed in Ohio in 1998 and took its name from Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue, the locale of many of the city’s artistic and cultural organizations, a sort of mini American equivalent of Unter dem Linden in pre-World War II Berlin. Since 2007 it has been Quartet-in-residence at the South Bend campus of Indiana University. Among its stops on tour have been Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, the Aspen Music Festival, and Osaka, Japan.

Composer Elliott Carter once told an interviewer how glad he would be to hear performers truly interpret his music. He felt that too many players were afraid or too polite to dig into his music. Carter might enjoy hearing the Euclid live dangerously in Bartók’s music. After four daunting movements in Quartet 4, they dive into the fifth and last movement like hussars arriving for a Magyar homecoming festival, ready to dance the night out. It is wild and wonderful, topped off by the cello’s gorgeous double-stop downward glissando near the end. But the group also dares to be quiet and introspective in search of the soulful sadness that lies at the heart of No. 6, written just on the eve of World War II. And rarely has a group found such meaning and vision in the often taken-for-granted No. 2 of the World War I era. Bring on Quartets 1, 3, and 5.

The performances were recorded at the Sauder Concert Hall at Goshen College in Indiana, produced and engineered by Da-Hong Seeto. The members of the Euclid should be named: Jameson Cooper and Jacob Murphy, violins, Luis Enrique Vargas, viola, and David Beem, cello.

Blair Sanderson, June 2010

In the middle of its project to record all six of the string quartets of Béla Bartók, the Euclid Quartet has released a CD of the String Quartets No. 2, No. 4, and No. 6, half of the cycle and, oddly enough, what would be expected on a second volume, not the first. Be that as it may, this is an exciting recording that admirers of the Bartók quartets will relish, no doubt anticipating a follow-up album of the remaining No. 1, No. 3, and No. 5, and making comparisons with other great recordings and great quartets while they listen. If two outstanding ensembles come to mind as possible influences on the Euclid Quartet, or at least as worthy exemplars, the Juilliard String Quartet and the Takács String Quartet appear to have had a strong effect on this group’s thinking and interpretations of Bartók’s music. With a group as technically assured as the Euclid Quartet obviously is, and as fully versed in the intricacies of these works, one can move past the usual questions about managing the difficulties these pieces present and advance directly to the matter of whether they have grasped Bartók’s spirit. In the same way that the Juilliard captured the bite of Bartók’s avant-garde counterpoint, and the Takács grasped the fire of the folk music that informed him, the Euclid has a firm hold on both the music’s modernist and the folklorist elements. This quartet has made quite a leap from its previous recording of the late Romantic string quartets of the Moravian composer Hugo Kauder to the acerbic and brooding quartets of Bartók, but this body of works—a veritable bible of extended string techniques—has become the acid test of most virtuoso quartets, and the Euclid Quartet has demonstrated that it is pure gold in these spectacular performances. Artek has provided exceptional sound, with a wonderfully resonant ambience that takes nothing away from the strings’ penetrating colors.

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