WORKS: String Quartet in A flat, Op. 105
PERFORMER: Hagen Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 469 066-2
The usual companion for Dvorák’s Op. 105 is the American Quartet. So all credit to these two groups for chosing novel alternatives. While Op. 105 reflects the happiness Dvorák felt on his final return from his American sojourn, it also shows something of the darker, more neurotic aspects of his later maturity. The Hagen Quartet’s reading is something of a curiosity: the first movement’s slow introduction, with its lean string sound and palpable drama, promises much, but its way with some of the subsidiary material of the main Allegro appassionato seems unbearably coy. While everything in the Quartet is certainly exquisitely played – its performance of Schulhoff’s Five Pieces by way of a makeweight is, incidentally, the best recording available – there seems on the whole little emotional involvement.
The Alban Berg Quartet’s version of Op. 105, taken from a concert performance, is, if less poised, much more satisfying. The Beethovenian intensity it brings, quite appropriately, to the development of the first movement is utterly convincing and its exhilarating conclusion to the finale certainly justifies the audience plaudits left on the recording. This is a performance that will not fail to delight, but competition is strong with fine recordings from both the Vlach and Pražak Quartets, the latter being near ideal. The Berg Quartet’s performance of Dvorák’s Op. 51, the finest of his middle-period quartets, is rather less convincing, with a tendency to focus on developmental detail in the outer movements at the expense of the broader picture. Jan Smaczny