Prokofiev: String Quartet No. 2; Ballade in C minor, Op. 15; Cello Sonata in C, Op. 119; Adagio, Op. 97b

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Praga
WORKS: String Quartet No. 2; Ballade in C minor, Op. 15; Cello Sonata in C, Op. 119; Adagio, Op. 97b
PERFORMER: Prazák Quartet; Jaromír Klepác (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PRD 250 174
It was uncharacteristic of Prokofiev to follow party guidelines and incorporate the music of a Soviet republic into his own work, but during the turbulent year of 1942 he found himself evacuated to Nalchik in the Kabarda region of the northern Caucasus. The acerbic, vigorous idiom of the local peoples’ folk music meshes vividly with the Classical approach of the Second String Quartet he composed there, and in each new interpretation the proportions tend to be slightly different. The Prazák Quartet is less ‘gutty’ and more central-European in its poise than the top previous contenders, the Emerson and the Britten (a personal favourite not, alas, currently available), though the dances still spring to life and the subtlety of the slow movement’s introspective coda has never been more beautifully observed. The darker implications of native cultures absorbed into Stalin’s empire which Prokofiev saves for his outer-movement developments are also powerfully projected.

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There can be no better contrast to the Second Quartet than its more austere predecessor of 1930, which is an additional reason why the Emerson Quartet remains the clear first choice. The Prazák hands over instead to its cellist, Michal Kanka, whose noble and resonantly recorded lower register yields heart-stopping results in the Cinderella transcription and the humane melodies of the late Sonata. His pianist, Jaromír Klepáž, could have helped to bring the more sardonic episodes into sharper focus. It’s good, though, to hear the early Ballade, a haunting if awkwardly written little devil to set alongside the Mephistophelean grandeur of the Second Piano Concerto. If the programme appeals, you won’t be disappointed. David Nice