Janacek: String Quartet Nos 1 (Kreutzer Sonata) & 2 (Intimate Letters); Allegro for Violin and Piano; Violin Sonata

COMPOSERS: Janacek
LABELS: Meridian
ALBUM TITLE: Janácek String Quartets
WORKS: String Quartet Nos 1 (Kreutzer Sonata) & 2 (Intimate Letters); Allegro for Violin and Piano; Violin Sonata

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PERFORMER: Dante Quartet; Ferenc Rados (piano)

CATALOGUE NO: CDE 84560
For all their unique qualities, Janácek’s two quartets belong to a well-established tradition of experiment in Czech chamber music embracing both programme and formal innovation. Smetana’s biographically inspired Piano Trio and quartets initiated a trend stretching through Dvorák’s Dumky Trio and Novák’s Second String Quartet to Janácek’s highly programmatic chamber works.

Both of Janácek’s quartets, as with so many of the works of his last decade, derive their astonishingly passionate tone from the composer’s love for a much younger woman, an underlying factor which clearly drives the Dante Quartet’s remarkable performances. These incandescent readings bring a wealth of interpretative insight to these volatile works, ranging from extreme dramatic involvement to a clear understanding of line and formal development. Solo lines are almost invariably beautifully delivered and weigh appropriately in the clear, if occasionally slightly over-resonant, acoustic.

The First Quartet begins reflectively, as if the incidents captured from Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata novella are being viewed from something of a distance, but the performance develops a powerfully dramatic profile. In the Second Quartet the emphasis shifts toward close engagement with the detail: the first movement grips from the very opening notes and the finale has at times a credible swagger which few performers capture successfully. The Dante Quartet’s blend of freshness and experience constantly inform performances which stand very high in a competitive field. If they fall slightly short of the Skampa Quartet’s superbly rounded benchmark readings, these are nevertheless performances to be relished again and again.

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Jan Smaczny