Dvorak String Quartet No. 13 / Janacek String Quar

Full size album art
Label: VIRGIN
Catalog: 094635339925
Format: CD

Artemis String Quartet

1. Dvorak: Quartet # 13: I Allegro moderato 2. II Adagio ma non troppo 3. III Molto vivace 4. IV Finale. Andante sostenuto 5. Janacek: Quartet #2 'Intimate Letters' I. Andante 6. II. Adagio 7. III. Moderato 8. IV. Allegro

The total neglect of this album at Amazon is a shame. The Artemis Quartet is gaining fame in Europe as the successor to the mantle long worn by the Alban Berg Quartet. Good as their Beethoven is, this coupling of Dvorak and Janacek is significantly better. Part of the reason is that Dvorak's greatest quartets remain underplayed, with no. 12 "American" carrying most of the weight. If anything, the G major Op. 106 (which used to be No. 14 but now seems to be no. 13) is more sweeping, almost symphonic in character. The first movement i full of drama and variation, not to mention the melodic genius one expects from Dvorak. The slow movement is rare in that it approaches the tragic, when Dvorak's natural bent musically was cheerful. In a recent reisue the Guarneri Qt. delivers a big-boned interpretation with each instrument sounding like a soloist. The Artemis has a sweeter, more blended sound, yet in their way they are just as alert and dramatic (they are also recorded much better). In Beethoven I often wish that tis ensemble would dig in more and emphasize smoothness of execution less. My wish comes true in this Dvorak performance, where they keep up the intensity from first to last. If you have learned to love the warm but relaxed style typical of Czech quartet playing, this more aggressive style may come as a shock, but only at first. Such excitement is hard to resist. Also impressive is their depth and resonance of tone in the Adagio. Dvorak wrote this quartet in 1895, the year he returned from America, but one hears a lingering American quality in this soulful movement, whose melody could easily be derived from spirituals. The Scherzo is in quasi-rondo form with two trios. Here the Artemis are perhaps too poised but still very enjoyable. The finale is spritely but emphatic enough to keep the themes from sounding trivial, and one is impressed by this group's deftness in fast, mercurial passages, one of their signature touches. As for the Janacek "Intimate Letters" quartet, I'm not sure it wouldn't have been better to give us another underplayed Dvorak quartet, since Janacek's two quartets have been recorded by all the prominent modern groups. The Artemis version is clean, with plenty of attention to the unusual timbres that Janacek evokes, but it sin't as deeply felt as my favorite reading by the Alban Berg Qt. nor as daringly stark as the Juilliard's, among others. Beautiful sonority that has been captured in up-to-date sound is the main attraction here. Heard on its own, this is a reading that no one could fault. In the end, it's the Dvorak that makes this CD. I don't think I've ever heard a more convincing reading.

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