- String Quartet No. 1 in A minor, Sz. 40, BB 52 (Op. 7)
- String Quartet No. 3 in C sharp major, Sz. 85, BB 93
- String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major, Sz. 102, BB 110
- String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Sz. 67, BB 75 (Op. 17)
- String Quartet No. 4 in C major, Sz. 91, BB 95
- String Quartet No. 6 in D major, Sz. 114, BB 119
Among the top performers of Béla Bartók's "String Quartets (6)," the Emerson String Quartet has had few rivals, perhaps only matched in technical prowess and expressive clarity by the Takács String Quartet in its 1998 recordings on London, and historically, by the Juilliard String Quartet in its legendary 1963 cycle for Columbia. While the Takács may be more heated in its folk-like expressions and fiery rhythms, and the Juilliard more coolly classical in tone and execution, the Emerson takes a legitimate position between the two: there is room for some flexibility in Bartók, and to the extent that the Emerson gives a balanced presentation of the composer's impulses and aesthetics, the interpretations are effective and feel authentic without ever falling into clichés. The Emerson's award-winning 1988 set appears in this 2006 reissue trimmed down from its former bulky packaging, and it is substantially reduced in cost; but the recordings are undiminished in their extraordinary dynamics, transparent textures, and vibrant timbres, and are still valuable additions to any serious collection. The works are arranged three to a disc, with odd-numbered quartets on the first and even-numbered on the second, to fit easily on two CDs without the break that a sequential order causes. Deutsche Grammophon's reproduction has been improved over the years since these recordings were first made, but the sound is still terrific for late '80s digital quality, though the slightly dry ambience may not be to everyone's taste.