Spanning the period from 1907 to 1939, the six string quartets of Bela Bartok offer a capsule record of his entire creative life. In this year of Bartok birthday centennial celebrations the Julliard String Quartet has taken on the herculean feat of presenting the six in two programs. Thursday (with a repeat performance scheduled last night), the ensemble presented Quartets Nos. 1, 3 and 5 at the Library of Congress. The second half, Quartets Nos. 2, 4 and 6, will follow next Thursday evening, April 2, repeated April 3.
The string quartet form usually draws forth a composer's most concentrated thought. This is especially true for Bartok, who infused a late-Beethoven kind of intensity into every one of the six quartets. The first burns with youthful passion, exposing both the bliss and the torture of idealistic love. The third speaks in a taut, compressed voice, shaped by the reality of experience. The fifth unfolds with simplicity, thrusting deep and true.
The sheer physical effort involved in the Juilliard Quartet's performance was remarkable. With driving energy the four kept the musical temperature at a boil, never faltering in the thick textures and asymmetrical rhythms. They also caught, particularly in the Third Quartet, the mysterious quality of certain simpler passages which reflected Bartok's searching inward journeys, as well as the biting humor that comes through strongly in the Fifth Quartet. a