LABELS: Praga Digitals
ALBUM TITLE: Janáček: String Quartets; Concertino
WORKS: String Quartets; Concertina
PERFORMER: Pražák Quartet
In the last 30 years, the relationship between the leading Czech string quartets and Janáček two String Quartets has evolved markedly. The best Czech performers have always produced fine recordings of these extraordinary works, but more recent generations of players have pursued a different level of engagement. While performances such as that of the Talich Quartet (2005) show remarkable insight, recordings by other quartets, such as the Haas and ≤kampa, grapple with the passion and drama, occasionally even sadism in these turbulent works.
The Pražák Quartet has an international reputation in Czech repertoire, in particular for their Dvořák their new recording of Janáček’s Quartets shares many of their fellow ensembles’ keen engagement with the composer’s language. The veiled opening of the first movement of the Kreutzer Sonata, based on Tolstoy’s novella, sounds suitably haunted and desperate, while the succeeding faster section has appropriate irony. The two middle movements are poised and the finale is richly reflective.
The more personally significant second quartet shows the Pražák mingling tenderness and, in the solo lines, compelling refinement. The opening of the finale is a touch lightweight, but the quartet manages a consummately skilful reconciliation of the tender and frenetic elements that conclude the work.
The nearly contemporary Concertino, quirkily combining piano, clarinet, horn, two violins and viola, is a brilliant makeweight and is performed with verve and insight. The recorded sound could have more depth, but this is a fine issue and one of the most rewarding of recordings of these Quartets. Jan Smaczny