Janacek: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet no. 2; Pohádka; Violin Sonata

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LABELS: Brodsky Records
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet no. 2; Pohádka; Violin Sonata
PERFORMER: Brodsky Quartet; Martin Cousin (piano)
Janá?ek’s enduring fascination with Russian literature and folk culture bore rich fruit in a number of works, not least in the opera Kátya Kabanová. The same fascination was the driving force behind the first of his two far from abstract string quartets, based as it is on Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata. The drama, passion, even violence of the story are vital to the energies that impel this extraordinary work. But while it is full of often startling contrasts, it also needs a firm sense of line if the climaxes in particular are to tell with full force. Notwithstanding a slightly rhapsodic approach to the rhetorical solo lines in the introduction, the Brodsky Quartet maintains a strong sense of forward momentum throughout. Nor are they afraid of the astringency of string sound that Janá?ek often calls for.


Their reading of the Second Quartet, though creditable, is not as successful, with a loss of intensity at the end of the first movement; also their slightly aggressive rhythmic pointing in the third movement tends to sap its hypnotic quality. Although recorded beautifully clearly as an ensemble, I could have done with a more equal balance between the second violin and the rest of the quartet. While certainly recommendable, these performances do not unseat the Skampa’s marvellous performances from their benchmark status. The 1922 version of the violin sonata and Pohádka (‘Fairy Tale’) for cello and piano, another work owing its inspiration to Russian culture, affectionately and idiomatically played, are very welcome extras. Jan Smaczny