Smetana: String Quartet No. 1 (From My Life); String Quartet No. 2

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LABELS: Supraphon
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 (From My Life); String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Panocha Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SU 3450-2 Reissue (1989, 1990)
Smetana’s chamber music shows us the heart of this extraordinary artist. The operas and symphonic poems of Má vlast, though undoubtedly sincere, show the public persona conscious of his duty to the nation; in his two quartets, Smetana confides: the crushing blow of deafness in the First, and the loss of sanity itself in the Second. Puzzlingly, the Panocha Quartet, among the most distinguished of modern Czech Quartets, gives creditable but distinctly non-interventionist readings. Its way with the First Quartet lacks the impact of the Lindsay Quartet’s passionately involved performance: the Polka second movement ambles along with little sense of character and the crucial moment of tragedy in the finale when the harmonic high E, which haunted Smetana’s deafness, breaks through is underpowered. Its performance of the startlingly experimental Second Quartet is dependable and approachable, but risks none of the disturbing and revealing incandescence of the Pražák Quartet’s reading. Jan Smaczny