WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 (Kreutzer Sonata); String Quartet No. 2 (Intimate Letters); String Quartet in E flat, Op. 51
PERFORMER: Vanbrugh Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 13812 DDD
The appearance of this fine recording of Janácek’s two string quartets coincides with the publication of John Tyrrell’s translation of the composer’s correspondence with Kamila Stösslová, the woman who inspired so much of his work from 1917. The passion which Janácek felt for Kamila is commemorated with extraordinary intensity in the Second Quartet, whose title ‘Intimate Letters’ is taken from this volume of letters, in many ways the epistolary equivalent of the music.
The Vanbrugh Quartet performs both quartets with astonishing intensity and a clear feeling for the emotional background: every bar has been thought through and the terrifying technical demands of Janácek’s string writing emerge less as virtuosity than as an integral part of a narrative. The Vanbrughs have no qualms about telling the story in performances which have an almost theatrical vividness. And yet there are times when interpretation aided by a very forward, and at times almost acid, recording seems a little too insistent. In the case of Janácek, their view is compelling if a touch overwhelming; with their performance of the imaginative makeweight, Dvorák’s E flat major Quartet, the composition threatens to flounder under a wealth of tender detail. Nevertheless, this is a recording of considerable quality and will not disappoint. Jan Smaczny