WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 (The Kreutzer Sonata); String Quartet 2 (Intimate Letters)
PERFORMER: Skampa Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SU 3486-2
Care and passion seem mutually exclusive qualities. Where Janácek’s two quartets are concerned, both much to do with passion, care might seem inimical to successful interpretation. Well, the best performances of these extraordinary works have both: passion in delivery and care over detail that illuminates musical detail and enhances line; these performances have both qualities in abundance. The Skampa Quartet delivered a blistering (and careful) performance of the First String Quartet on a live Radio 3 recording – the only problem was audience noise. In this superb studio recording no audience obtrudes but the playing is live in every sense.
To take just one virtue, the Skampa Quartet understands the operatic affinities of the First Quartet, notably the more tragic sections of The Cunning Little Vixen, and reveals an allusive dimension that enriches this performance as none other. Nor does it shun brutality: the middle parts of the slow movement and the sul ponticello writing in the third movement are as vicious as they must be. The players’ exquisite level of care for detail is matched by a recording which reveals every layer of the texture. In the Second Quartet they use an edition by the scholar and performer Milan Skampa, their mentor and inspiration: a fascinating, sonorous and magnificently involved reading which adds greatly to our understanding of the work. Doubtless there will be room for other interpretations of these quartets, but this recording sets new standards for both these marvellous works.