This disc was a June
OF THE MONTH
The Wihan Quartet have
been going for 25 years now and, until
recently have been relatively unknown
in Britain. I first saw this Czech Quartet
two years ago and was blown away. Since
then Iíve seen them twice and acquired
some of their discs. This CD of the
two quartets by the "Father of
Czech music" brings performances
of the highest level deserving the widest
The first quartet is
by far the better known. Right from
the opening chords
we are away in the world of Czech music;
the listener also spots the influence
this work had on DvořŠk. The movements
are, as implied autobiographical; firstly
we have the youthful romantic and the
quartet illustrate this poignantly.
The second movement describes
his dancing and falling in love; then
comes the largo sostenuto which
covers his increasing success and finally
Vivace that conveys the "whistling"
in his ears. The composer, who so splendidly
conveyed the river in "Vltava",
is equally expressive in describing
the human condition.
The Wihan are right
inside this music, as they were in the
ďAmerican QuartetĒ. The speeds are slightly
slower than the norm but I didnít feel
this was over-leisurely and the recording
captures the quartet in fine sound.
As a bit of fun I compared their playing
of the final movement, which begins
so life-affirming and ends in
resigned acceptance, with the old Hollywood
Quartet (Testament). I felt that whilst
the vintage group were splendid, there
was more of a "Czech" feel
with the Wihan. Make no mistake this
piece is a great quartet and the Wihan
give a splendid rendition.
The Second Quartet
is much more enigmatic and was written
towards the end of Smetanaís life. Smetana
summed it up in a single sentence "It
presents the turmoil in a man who has
lost his hearing". It doesnít have
such memorable melodies and frankly
I donít find it in the same class as
"From My Life".
It is therefore unsurprising that it
is much rarer on CD and often Number
One has a stronger coupling; often DvořŠk.
However, one must admire a composition
that was written against doctorsí orders.
He clearly found it a struggle: "If
I do not write a new idea straightaway,
I do not know after a while, let alone
half a day later, what it was".
The Wihan give it a good performance
but I think you would be advised to
play it separately and not straight
after the First.
Judged by itself this
is a splendid disc and I urge you to
buy it. Picky caveats are only that
there is room for thirty minutes more
music; possibly an obscure DvořŠk
piece, such as Op. 34 that the Wihan
play, would have been good. Iím sure
most collectors of chamber music have
versions of "From My
Life" but I strongly recommend
this disc to all.
David R Dunsmore
see also review
by Patrick Waller June
RECORDING OF THE MONTH