LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
WORKS: Mozart: String Quartet in D, K575; Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 8; Smetana: String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Škampa Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: WHLive 0019
As its first artists-in-residence in the 1990s, the Škampa Quartet fully justify representation in
this Wigmore Hall Live series.
On the evidence of the concert they gave on 23 November 2006, they have built up a very strong rapport with their audience and really know how to exploit the hall’s warm acoustics to their advantage.
A further incentive for hearing this vividly engineered release is that, with the exception of the Smetana Second Quartet, their interpretations of the other works are currently unavailable in studio recordings.
With its highly exposed cello writing, Mozart’s final Quartet is not exactly the easiest of openers. Yet the Škampa Quartet delivers a beautifully natural and effortless account, revelling in the subtleties of contrapuntal interplay so characteristic of Mozart’s last works.
One curious feature I noticed in the first movement is the varied reading between the exposition and its repeat of the appoggiaturas in the opening melody, but such discrepancies only heighten the sense of spontaneity that governs the performance as a whole.
In Smetana’s intense Second Quartet, the Škampa are particularly compelling, achieving a wider range of dynamics and tonal colouring than the rival Pražák Quartet studio recording on Praga Digitals whilst emphasising the almost Janácek-like discontinuity of the writing.
The second movement Polka is a notable highlight, projected with a really bold swagger. Some of this rustic energy is employed to powerful effect in the Shostakovich, the brutal double stops in the fourth movement here sounding even more belligerent than normal.
The Škampa Quartet’s propensity to play some of the quiet passages in the outer movements without vibrato is certainly intriguing, though the recent Jerusalem Quartet version on Harmonia Mundi label offers a far more heartfelt rendition of the work as a whole. Erik Levi