Dvorák: String Quartets Nos 10 & 11

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: La Dolce Volta
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 10 & 11
PERFORMER: Talich Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: LDV 18

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These quartets are separated by barely two years and yet their musical languages are a world apart. The E flat Quartet of 1879, written for the Becker Quartet, after the success of the Slavonic Dances was intended to be expressly ‘Slavic’ in character. The C major Quartet, for the Hellmesberger Quartet of Vienna, was aimed at an audience more attuned to the density of musical argument encountered in Brahms. Both works are utterly captivating yet quite different. The Slavic manner is apparent to an extent in the scherzo and at the start of the finale of the C major Quartet, but it soon retreats in the face of some intensive motivic development. Far from daunting, this quartet deserves careful and repeated listening, particularly in a performance as engaging as this.

The present incarnation of the Talich Quartet is of course well seasoned to this repertoire. Their playing is both considered and affectionate, but rises to remarkable heights in the performance of the C major Quartet; one of the best I have heard. In the opening movement they capture both its understated lyricism and strong motivic drive. The opening of the E flat Quartet – magically mingling texture and melody – is beautifully handled, but later the playing sometimes becomes a touch perfunctory. The remaining movements, in particular the Dumka, are delightful. The recorded sound, if a little close, reveals much detail. All in all, this is a fine issue and the performance of the C major Quartet a genuine classic.

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Jan Smaczny