Smetana, Fibich

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Fibich,Smetana
LABELS: Calliope
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 (From My Life); String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 1
PERFORMER: Talich Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CAL 9332
Smetana served his nation in opera and the symphonic poem cycle, My Country, but reserved chamber music for personal matters: grief at the death of a beloved daughter in the G minor Piano Trio and the vicissitudes of his later life in the two quartets. The addition of Fibich’s First String Quartet as a makeweight for Smetana’s two works is a judicious choice. Even apart from its inherent excellence, Fibich’s Quartet, composed in 1874, is a seminal work anticipating the use of popular dance rhythms, notably the polka, in chamber works by both Smetana and Dvorák. The Talich Quartet has a distinguished track record in this repertoire. In Smetana’s First Quartet it is at its best in the less overtly dramatic sections, for example in the rich sentiment of the first movement’s secondary material and the slow movement. The players’ way with the second-movement Polka is amiable and they capture the Bartered Bride-like bustle of the opening of the finale excellently. But while there is undoubted pathos in the finale’s closing bars, the pacing of the moment where Smetana commemorates his catastrophic sudden deafness lacks the drama which makes the Lindsays’ performance so compelling. Similarly, in the faster movements of the Second Quartet, the players don’t make enough of Smetana’s graphic, almost operatic rhetoric, certainly not by comparison with the Prazak Quartet. While there is much to admire, and the Talich’s rendition of the Fibich is certainly appealing, with a recording that could do with more depth this is not a landmark issue. Jan Smaczny

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