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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartets Volume 7.

No. 1 in A major, Op. 2/B8 (1862, rev. version 1888) [36’49].
No. 6 in A minor, Op. 12/B40 (1873, compl. Burghauser) [30’04].
Vlach Quartet Prague (Jana Vlachová, Karel Stadherr, violins; Petr Verner, viola; Mikael Ericsson, cello).
Rec. Martínek Studio, Prague, 7-8 June (Op. 2); July 5th-7th (Op. 12), 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557357 [66’53]

Founded in 1982, the Vlach Quartety Prague is successor to the famous Vlach Quartet (led by Josef Vlach, the present first violin’s father). The quartet won the International String Quartet Competition in 1985 (Portsmouth) and went on to win the prize of the Czech Society for Chamber Music in 1991. All four members of the Quartet are members of the Czech Chamber Orchestra.

Great credentials then, and they do not fail to deliver. The first in the programme is, indeed, Dvořák’s first essay in this hallowed medium, written in 1862 but unperformed until 1888, whence the present revised version hails, and unpublished until 1948. But do not let the early date put you off - actually it is a work of confidence, with the composer’s individual voice all but intact. The Vlach Quartet responds to Dvořák’s language with gusto and an innate sense of style so that there is hardly a doubt about the worth of this music. Technically, as their competition victories would imply, they are excellent, in particular Vlachová’s deliver of some tricky violin lines. But they are just as fine in the pastoral-Czech slow movement (‘Andante affetuoso ed appassionato’) or the gently-shifting Scherzo; note the nice, grainy sound to the lower part of Vlachová’s register.

Of the four movements, the finale meanders most, but the Vlach Quartet does actually give it all its got.

The Sixth Quartet is heard here in the composer’s revision, completed by Jaromil Burgmeister; not all of the revised version survives. It is a delightful work, though, opening with a lovely mezza-voce from all concerned. This work offers a more varied landscape than Op. 2, with exemplary instrumental interplay in the second movement (Poco allegro) and a truly heart-warming slow movement (‘Poco adagio’).

The finale is more exploratory in nature than the rest of the music on this disc, much more laid back in character, too, than its marking of ‘Allegro molto’ implies. If the Vlach Quartet had been more aware of the possible cumulative effect of Dvořák’s rhythmic repetitions, this would have been an even more satisfying performance. As it stands, it is nevertheless a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The recording is not over-warm but detail is exemplary.


Colin Clarke

see also review by Jonathan Woolf


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