This young group, formed while studying at the Gheorghe Dima Music Academy in Roumania, has been building quite a reputation. Hailing from Transylvania, they claim a special connection with Bartók’s quartets. Such nationalist appropriation usually raises my hackles, but having listened enraptured I say fair enough.

This is wonderfully imaginative playing – a more relaxed approach than the high-tension of some recent rivals. The expansive tempi allow room for savouring some extraordinary textures and sonorities, letting sounds resonate and hang in the air. Their lovely tonal blend, captured in a typical Chandos warm acoustic, is in the classic East-European soft-grained tradition but doesn’t sugarcoat these modernist icons. The primal savagery is conveyed with foot-stamping energy and earthy colours, while melancholia and wistful longing pervade the atmospheric slow movements.

Clinical precision is eschewed in favour of expressive freedom and folkloric colouring – the buzzing night sounds shimmer through a heat haze – more post-impressionist landscape than expressionist nightmare. The outer movements of the Fourth Quartet are less hectoring than usual, while the middle movement’s viola tune has a tearful lump in its throat. While the Heath Quartet set from last year remains a first choice, this new set makes a fine complement with its particular ethno-musical flavour and may be easier to swallow for newcomers.

Composer: Bartók
Composition: Complete String Quartets
Performer: Arcadia Quartet
Catalogue Number: Chandos CHAN10992 (2CD)

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