Arcadia Quartet: Janáček String Quartets

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LABELS: Orchid Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Janáček: The Two String Quartets
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Arcadia Quartet


Written toward the end of his life, when JanáΩek was in the throes of an intense but unrequited love affair, JanáΩek’s two String Quartets distill many of the passions found in his last four operas. The First Quartet (1923) takes its inspiration from Tolstoy’s novella, The Kreutzer Sonata, in JanáΩek’s own words the tale of a ‘woman, tormented and beaten down’. The Second Quartet (1928), entitled ‘Intimate Letters’, was an explicit chronicle of his love for Kamila Stösslová. Not only do both Quartets set formidable technical challenges, they require astonishing emotional commitment and dramatic timing.

Winners of the Wigmore Hall’s 2012 International String Quartet Competition, the Romanian Arcadia Quartet certainly have the measure of the dramatic aspects of these remarkable works. The opening of the First Quartet is arresting; elsewhere, however, the playing, though always beautiful in tone, seems routine. Too often, a high dynamic takes the place of passionate communication.

There is more nuance and intensity in their performance of the Second Quartet, but the players’ evident engagement is not helped by a close recorded sound. It’s a pity, since the second movement has a rapt, almost visionary quality. While there is much to enjoy here, a lack of reflection and the recorded sound leaves this issue a long way behind the Skampa Quartet on Supraphon (SU40032).


Jan Smaczny