Dvorák • Smetana: String Quartets

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COMPOSERS: Dvorák; Smetana
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Dvorák • Smetana: String Quartets
WORKS: Dvorák: String Quartet No. 12, Op. 96; Smetana: String Quartet No. 1 ‘From My Life[
PERFORMER: Tokyo String Quartet


Dvorák links these two most famous Czech string quartets. He played the viola in a private premiere of Smetana’s First Quartet in 1877 and it is possible that event influenced Dvorák when he came to penning the opening of his American Quartet some 16 years later. Both works begin with gently rocking string accompaniments and a striking melody for viola. Yet they could hardly be more different in their mode of address: Smetana is setting out on a musical account of the tragic deafness that fatally damaged his career, while Dvorák seems to be off for a stroll in the country.

In some ways, the Tokyo Quartet on this splendidly recorded CD seem almost too relaxed at the start of the American. While the playing is perfectly agreeable, I could have done with more articulation in the main melodies. Similarly, the deeply expressive Lento needs more overt emotion, although the scherzo and finale are more infectious. The Tokyo Quartet respond rather better to the tragic dynamic of Smetana’s From My Life Quartet. The opening of the first movement is as shocking as it should be and the subsidiary material is rich in sentiment. However the finale is a touch undercharacterised.


Jan Smaczny