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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartets Volume 7

String Quartet No. 1 in A major Op.2 (1862 revised 1888)
String Quartet No.6 in A minor Op.12 (1873)
Vlach Quartet Prague
Recorded at the Martínek Studio, Prague, June and July 2003
NAXOS 8.557357 [66.53]


The Vlach Quartet has now reached volume seven in its cycle of the complete Dvořák quartets and gone, thankfully, are the days when the only cycle you could buy was that by the Prague Quartet – good though that box was, and remains. The Vlach’s playing is characterised by warm and genial musicianship. The primarius is Jana Vlachová, daughter of the more famous Vlach, and it must be her anticipatory sniffs that one can hear from time to time, ones that are quite unproblematic to me and which are really only audible on headphones. Her dramatic and dominant first violin line is matched by the warmth of Petr Verner’s viola as those telling inner voices are explored and resolved in the first movement, say, of the early A major. This is no masterpiece but there are buccaneering moments for all four players with Mikael Ericsson’s cello beavering away in the depths. The Vlach do well by this opening movement – bringing out its ebullience whilst minimising to a great degree its structural failings. The strong slow movement is densely argued and vibrated and the Allegro gallops, embracing a delightful pizzicato-laced trio section strong on folk-festive spirit. Furthermore the tender reflection and reminiscence of the finale is notable for the only time on this disc that Vlachová dares some portamenti, to sweeten and refine still further the sensibility evoked.

The companion work, the Op.12, is one that’s been completed by Jarmil Burghauser who based his version on Dvořák’s revision. This was a work the composer began shortly after his marriage but laid aside. Some of the first movement is intact in the autograph (exposition and most of the development), most of the second movement, the third movement and portions of the finale. There is plenty of characteristic folk-drive in the opening Allegro though it strikes me that original would have been more extended than this reconstruction and that much of the inspiration is Schubertian in origin. The slow movement is affectionate and warmly played, the scherzo lilting and the finale is a conflation of the composer’s first and revised versions.

If you’ve followed the series so far you won’t be deterred by the reconstructed A minor – indeed you may positively welcome it as useful surgery (you certainly couldn’t hope for a better surgeon than Burghauser who was a great champion of Czech music in general and this composer in particular). The sound is, as I suggested, just a touch close but it does justice to such as those winsome exchanges between Vlachová and second violinist Karel Stadherr in the opening of the Op.2. Pleasurable and nourishing listening.

Jonathan Woolf


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