Dvorak: String Quartets in D minor, Op. 34, & in A flat, Op. 105

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Somm
WORKS: String Quartets in D minor, Op. 34, & in A flat, Op. 105
PERFORMER: Delmé String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 231

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This handsome issue commemorates the 50-year career of the Delmé String Quartet. The disc’s well-judged combination of quartets from Dvorák’s early and late maturity is most welcome. Both works were major steps for the composer: the D minor was written when he was firming up his fruitful friendship with Brahms, to whom he dedicated the piece, and contrasts well with the late A flat major Quartet, effectively his farewell to abstract composition. The reading of the A flat Quartet is one of the broadest I have heard: a serious, big-boned performance that pays extraordinary attention to expressive detail. One is constantly aware of the way in which the ensemble responds to the work’s mood swings and exquisite lyrical detail – an interpretation proving beyond doubt that Dvorák was far from being the naive countryman of popular biography. Some may quarrel with tempi, notably in the trio of the scherzo, and for a standard recommendation the Pražak Quartet remains unchallenged, but the care and insight that the Delmé bring to the work richly repays repeated listening. Its performance of the early D minor Quartet is perhaps a little too autumnal for this freshly ardent music, but there is still a wealth of intelligent detail to enjoy. Jan Smaczny