Jan‡cek, Dvor‡k

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Dvorak,Janacek
LABELS: BBC Wigmore Hall
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 (Kreutzer Sonata)
PERFORMER: Melvyn Tan (piano); Skampa Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: BBCW 1001-2
The Skampa Quartet is one of the brightest of a remarkable generation of young Czech quartets – their residency at the Wigmore Hall was undoubtedly a highlight of chamber music making in London. One of the hallmarks of their playing was that despite an awareness of the grand heritage of the Czech quartet tradition, they are never overwhelmed by it to the extent they avoid experiment with the repertoire. Needless to say, they project a powerful sense of ensemble in Janácek’s first string quartet. The tempo contrasts in the opening movement are pronounced but convincing, as is their amazing care over detail – the way in which the first violin cuts off the breezier passage at the centre of the movement is revelatory. Their account of the middle movements is one of the most chillingly poised I have heard with some remarkable sul ponticello playing; this is not a group that eschews the ugliness of sound Janácek requires for the immediacy of this narrative about the ‘… suffering, beaten, wretched woman’ of Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata novella. The intensity of their reading verges on the appalling, but this is what the piece is about, and, notwithstanding an occasionally obtrusive audience (this was a concert recording) this performance even supersedes the Prazak Quartet (Praga PRD 250 108).

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Their performance of Dvorák’s Piano Quintet is certainly lively. But ensemble, particularly in the last movement, isn’t always accurate. The participants clearly enjoy themselves, but as a whole the quintet deserves more careful attention than this.