Dvorak: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 9; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 16

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 9; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 16
PERFORMER: Vlach Quartet Prague
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553377
Dvorák’s string quartets are a sure barometer of his developing style since he composed them at nearly every juncture in his career. These two quartets are genuinely transitional, written in 1873 and 1874 when Dvorák was consciously establishing a simplicity of style after period of acute, almost avant garde experiment which saw him pushing the bounds of tonality to an extreme for the late 1860s.

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The F minor quartet shows some uncertainty of touch, not least in its overlong first movement. The gem, however, is the slow movement, which in arrangement became the Romance for violin and orchestra. Even in its slightly less inspired quartet version it is still a major treat. The listener should be aware that the sources for the quartet are problematic and the third movement is almost certainly incomplete, and I fear, without imaginative reconstruction, sounds it here. Though clearly responsive to its expressive language, the Vlach quartet don’t seem entirely at home in the F minor quartet. The A minor Quartet No. 7 (not to be confused with the problematic, also incomplete, A minor Quartet No. 6), with its settled idiom, greater clarity of outline and obvious anticipation of Dvorák’s maturity draws from them an entirely convincing performance. Jan Smaczny