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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet in C, Op. 54, No. 2 [19:52]
Grazyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)
String Quartet No. 4 (1951) [22:40]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartet No. 14 in A-flat Op 105 [33:23]
Szymanowski Quartet (Marek Dumicz, (violin); Grzegorz Kotow (violin); Vladimir Mykytka (viola); Marcin Sieniawski (cello))
rec. 24-27 March 2004, Angelika-Kauffmann-Saal, Schwarzenberg, Austria
AVIE AV 2092 [65:58]
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Something old, something new .... The Szymanowski Quartet here performs some of well-known and some relatively-newly explored repertoire on this Avie release. Haydn and Dvořák are both well-known for their substantial output for string quartet; Bacewicz much less so. What is here on this SACD is well worth listening to.

Starting with the Haydn, the Szymanowski quartet set things off well with an engaging and enjoyable presentation of the Hob III:57 quartet in C, a work of tasteful proportions awash in lovely themes. This is the only recording I have of this particular quartet, but the Szymanowski sound wonderful, fitting the Haydn aesthetic. Even more meltingly wonderful than the opening Vivace is the beautiful Adagio that follows, which shows Haydn is more than what some view as the "connoisseur’s Mozart". He shows his great value, not mere preciousness, in the short central movements especially. To some extent the Menuetto movement serves as a scherzo, with unpredictable changes in tone and demeanour. Though conventional by Beethoven’s standards, one can easily see this quartet as a model from which Beethoven struck off on his own route.

Following the greatly-enjoyable Haydn is the currently under-appreciated fourth quartet of Grazyna Bacewicz. In the only other known recording of this work, which I previously reviewed, we have a quite different approach. In that excellent recording of the Amar Corde Quartet by Acte Préalable the performance is more angular, spiny, and motoric. With this release, the Szymanowski focuses more on the lyrical aspects of what might be for some a somewhat intimidating work from a relatively unknown Polish composer. For contrast, the Szymanowski focus on different aspects than the Amar Corde. Against stereotype, the all-female Amar Corde quartet focuses on a more ascetic, geometric approach, with structure overall in mind, whereas the all-male Szymanowski focuses on the lyrical, otherworldly aspects of Bacewicz’s most celebrated quartet. Both performances are fascinating in completely different ways and both are worth hearing.

Regarding the Dvořák, the Szymanowski seem perfectly at home. The plaintive opening strains of the Adagio ma non troppo here are true — one buys into them completely and is drawn into the thunderous world of Dvořák’s quartets headlong. Regarding tone here, the closest one‘s comparison can run would be with regard to this quartet — would be the more overtly theatrical and easily accessible performances of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson trio’s versions of Shostakovich versus other more raw recordings. The sound quality of this recording is excellent and, with its mixture of the new and less-than new - but still not as often heard - repertoire, it comes highly recommended.

David Blomenberg

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