Mozart/Haydn/Schubert

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COMPOSERS: Mozart/Haydn/Schubert
LABELS: Praga
WORKS: String Quartet in D, K575; String Quartet in B flat, K589; String Quartet in F, K590/String Quartets, Op. 76/1, 2, 3; String Quartets, D804 & D810 (Der Tod und das Mädchen)
PERFORMER: Prazák Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: PRD 250 125 Reissue (1992-95)
The outsider Beethoven may be missing from this collection of Viennese quartets – which means that the focused violence of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden comes all the more as a surprise at the end – but the Prazák Quartet is alert enough to the searing originality of all three featured composers to make sure that the chosen journey remains an exciting one. The players have a near-miraculous knack of knowing how far to apply vibrato-rich resonance in the sudden excursions of Mozart’s minuets and last-movement developments. The surrounding contexts remain taut and disciplined, the Prazák’s telling way with phrase-ends a token of quartet playing at the highest level.

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No special pleading is needed for bar-by-bar originality in the first three of Haydn’s Op. 76 quartets, beginning with a splendid bout of open-air conviviality. Yet I haven’t heard a quartet search out the possibilities of colour and dynamics in the slow movements more tellingly; the Adagio of the G major quartet is a miracle of natural but detailed musicianship. There is robustness in the Schubert but plenty of mystery in the sphinx-like smile of D804, and the Prazák knows how to extract the maximum pathos from the Death and the Maiden variations while keeping them sufficiently on the move. Here, too, selectively applied vibrato goes hand in hand with perfect intonation to the finest expressive ends. A press quotation on the back of the box places the Prazák in the company of the Guarneri, Alban Berg and Quartetto Italiano; on this evidence – and I confess I hadn’t heard these marvellous recordings before – that’s no far-fetched claim. David Nice