Dvorak: String Quartet No. 9 in D minor, Op. 34; String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 (American)

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: String Quartet No. 9 in D minor, Op. 34; String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 (American)
PERFORMER: Britten Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54413-2 DDD
This is the Britten Quartet’s third disc for EMI; the first two (of Schubert and Ravel/Vaughan Williams) were highly praised but controversially designed. This time the cover features the Quartet in trenchcoats and, if you look carefully, you can just about read the names of the works. But it is the sound of the recording that counts, of course, and this is extremely impressive: flawless intonation, fine ensemble and excellent internal balance (though the cello occasionally fails to cut through the texture when required).

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The American Quartet, one of Dvorák’s most straightforward works, receives a clear unmannered performance. I wouldn’t have minded a greater expressive range in the slow movement – here, as elsewhere, the Brittens sometimes sound rather bland. The less familiar D minor Quartet provides an imaginative coupling. It’s a more dramatic work, with a delightful polka instead of a Scherzo. Again this is well played, though there’s a distinct lack of urgency in the 6/8 finale. The recorded sound in both works is excellent, if a touch close. Stephen Maddock