Janácek • Berg

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COMPOSERS: Janácek; Berg
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 (The Kreutzer Sonata); String Quartet No. 2 (Intimate Letters); Lyric Suite
PERFORMER: Juilliard String Quartet


Love – illicit in Berg’s case, unrequited in Janácek’s – provided the stimulus for these works. The Juilliard account of Berg’s Lyric Suite is overwhelmingly clear-sighted; elsewhere my reactions were mixed, as Janácek’s quartets contain subtexts which it is possible to make transparent, but which remain clouded here. The first quartet, the Kreutzer Sonata (1923), Janácek’s response not to Beethoven’s Op. 47 Violin Sonata, but to Tolstoy’s cautionary tale of passion and violence, receives a luridly theatrical performance, fleshed out in occasionally effortful primary colours. The Juilliards play courageously, but come nearer to the soul of the second of these scores, Intimate Letters, of 1928. ‘It is beautiful, strange, unrestrained, inspired… together I think we’ll triumph,’ confided the 74-year-old composer to Kamila Stösslová, the young woman with whom he was then infatuated. The opulence and fire of this playing seem admirable, yet these readings yield readily to the benchmark Berg Quartet performances on EMI. But I’ll happily go for the Juilliards in the Lyric Suite; Berg’s cryptically amorous musical ciphers become explicitly functional, bringing clarity to a score that’s never easily comprehended. Sonics are strikingly expansive and detailed, but if you already own the Berg’s Janácek disc, you’ll find no new insights here.


Michael Jameson