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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartet No. 13 in G, B192/Op. 106a (1895) [38'48].

String Quartet No. 3 in E flat minor, Op. 30b (1876) [35'10].
Vlach String Quartet
Rec. Domovina Studio. Prague, on aMay 16th-20th, 1960 and bJune 17th-19th, 1963. ADD


Magnificent performances of two wonderful quartets here.

The Dvorak G major demonstrates immediately the richness of the Vlach Quartet's sound even through the constraints of a somewhat abrasive recording. More, there is an intrinsically Czech approach – interpretatively as well as in terms of sound – that lends real authenticity to this performance. Perhaps this is manifested most strongly in the elasticity of tempo. The basic pulse is never violated, yet maneuvers around it are negotiated with perfect ease.

The Adagio is almost whispered at its outset, blossoming into radiant light at around 1'10. The composer's textural mastery is astonishing as the Vlach Quartet ensures the music grows inevitably in intensity. To balance, the tenderness at around 8'40 - ultra-tender first violin – Josef Vlach – underpinned by gently throbbing cello - is most touching. Chords are balanced in masterly fashion.

Yet the Vlach can dance too, as evinced by the third movement. One can hear the composer stretching, relaxing, in the finale with some delightful pizzicato play around two minutes in. The rhythms drive the music along infectiously. Wonderful.

Tchaikovsky's third quartet is in the bleak key of E flat minor, an area that the Vlach Quartet seems to have no problems attuning to, yet they revel in the light, too. There is a gorgeous long-breathed melody against pizzicato accompaniment in the first movement that is simply magnificent (just after the one minute mark). The feeling this time is of an intrinsically Tchaikovskian expanse, uneasily shifting for the first movement's duration.

If the allegro vivo e scherzando is sprightly within the confines of the first movement, intensity is never very far away and surfaces regularly. Intensity, though, is at its height in the 'Andante funebre e doloroso, ma con moto' slow movement. The quartet's control is mind-boggling, but it is the angst that moves. This is almost painful to listen to, like listening in on someone's black confessions. The finale miraculously combines great energy with gravity.

Tremendous performances, both. A must for all lovers of great quartet playing.

Colin Clarke

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