Janacek • Smetana

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Janacek; Smetana
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Janacek • Smetana
WORKS: Janacek: String Quartets Nos 1 & 2; Smetana: String Quartet No. 1
PERFORMER: Jerusalem Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902178

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Smetana’s first String Quartet of 1876, an autobiographical account of his life and loves, and the ultimate horror of total deafness, brought operatic-style drama into the largely abstract world of the string quartet. Nearly 60 years later Janácek, another major opera composer, recorded his passion for a much younger woman in his own two String Quartets.

The Jerusalem Quartet take an appropriately operatic view of both works. This mostly works very well in the Smetana: the opening Allegro and finale are compellingly dramatic, and the slow movement, with its songlike melodic lines, superbly moving. The only downside is a slightly perfunctory reading of the outer sections of the Polka second movement.

Janácek’s First Quartet here opens with a marvellous sense of expectation, and the main part of the movement is full of incident. The poise and virtuosity in later movements are models of eloquence. Throughout, each player has an almost vocal engagement with their individual part. But most impressive of all is the group’s consistent occupation with the narrative aspects of the work. In Janácek’s even more intense Second Quartet they maintain a strong sense of line and continuity. There are moments of great tenderness, but these are never over indulgent. Excellently recorded, the Jerusalem Quartet’s performances may not supplant those of the Skampa Quartet’s readings of Janácek (Supraphon SU 40032), but they come very close.

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Jan Smaczny