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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) String Quartet No. 13 in G, B192/Op. 106a (1896) [38:47]. Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928) String Quartet No. 2, Intimate Lettersb (1928)
rec. Klaus-von-Bismarksaal, Cologne Radio, a 1-5 February 2003; b Stolberger
Strasse Studio, Cologne, 20-22 June 2004.DDD VIRGIN CLASSICS 3533992 [64:36]
Artemis sees things differently. Not for them the perceptions
of some of the finest recordings of Op.106 – the old Prague
HMVs and Menges Quartet Deccas on 78; the (old) Vlach on Praga
and the (new) Prague on DG, the Panocha, or the Stamitz on
Bayer; and so on. The Artemis takes an entirely different approach.
Theirs is one of huge contrasts and outsize gestures with a
recording that is so close that one hears every anticipatory
sniff – and there are plenty. It’s playing that shakes down
Op.106 and refashions it as a study in vehemence, opposition
and rugged intercession.
Actually it’s sometimes
refreshing to be brought up short once in a while. The cello
saws malevolently in the second movement, there’s little relief
in the folkloric moments, which are treated rather as a shadowy
irrelevance to the main event - seeing through glasses, darkly.
The performances are charged, dynamic and visceral. It’s edge-of-one’s
seat listening and doubtless playing – violently animated.
On the other hand we could suggest that this playing is hectoring,
over-driven and manic; that the relation between expressive
moments and rhythmic dynamism is fudged: that the disquieting
passion – which is certainly there - is fatally overbalanced.
Further that dynamics are constantly exaggerated, gestures
are unidiomatic; there is no quiet playing at all – and little
respite from the storm of torrid violence; that march rhythms
are histrionic and over wrought; that the pizzicato episode
in the finale is coarse; that much of the phrasing in the finale
is banal; and that the corporate sonority of the quartet is
unattractive, splintered and often downright unpleasant.
If you want a historic
recording grounded in the soil try the Prague on Biddulph;
an LP era Vlach-Praga – not the reconstituted ensemble on Naxos – or
the Panocha or Stamitz.
Since the Janáček
No.2 is already a quartet that asks for and needs powerful
control of contrasts there’s slightly less room for apoplexy
in the Artemis performance. The composer himself was known
to favour the passionate expressivity of the Moravian Quartet,
so flavoursome and big gestures are not to be disdained. The
Artemis are keen to pinpoint some expressionist logic in the
sound-world – but the result can be motoric (movement one)
and exaggerated to such an extent that there’s little sense
of the tension and release so fundamental to the success of
this music. The corporate sonority of this group is too fractured
to do much justice to the work and nor does their pulse sound
at all natural. At the tempo they adopt the rusticities of
the finale pass without registering at all and the wit that
is here is, in this performance, laced with barely concealed
hysteria. The contrasts are once again thereby rendered meaningless.
I’m afraid that
very little in either performance appealed to me. Exaggeration
is here taken to the level of violence and the result is caricature.
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