Dvorak: String Quartet in A flat, Op. 105; String Quartet in G, Op. 106

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: String Quartet in A flat, Op. 105; String Quartet in G, Op. 106
PERFORMER: Melos Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901709
Dvorák’s American may be his most popular quartet, but the two written after it – his last contribution to chamber music – tell us far more about him. The A flat major Quartet, in particular, sets the sunny, open-hearted Dvorák against some disturbingly soul-searching music – a product of a time of uncertainty when he was changing direction exclusively to programme music and opera.

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The Melos Quartet responds best to Op. 105’s open-hearted qualities, notably in the trio of the scherzo and much of the slow movement. It is less successful in dealing with the neurotic shading of the opening of the finale and the veiled heart of the slow movement, nor is there much intensity in the outer portions of the scherzo, one of Dvorák’s most thrilling for string quartet. Interpretation aside, there are some worryingly sketchy details in the higher registers in the outer movements. Though certainly estimable, its reading isn’t a patch on the Prazák Quartet’s utterly committed performance.

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Its way with Op. 106, unquestionably Dvorák’s greatest quartet, is a quite different matter. Indeed, its approach to the first movement in which its brisk tempo turns the opening idea into a bird-wing flutter is inspired. In general, throughout this Quartet the Melos players externalise the profundity of this remarkable work with effortless ease. While, once again, there are occasional rough patches which rule the performance out as a benchmark recommendation – the Vlach Quartet on Naxos serves excellently here – it is definitely one to return to for its sheer insight. Jan Smaczny