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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) [25:49].
Artemis String Quartet.
rec. Klaus-von-Bismarksaal, Cologne Radio, a 1-5 February 2003; b Stolberger Strasse Studio, Cologne, 20-22 June 2004. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 353399 2 [64:36] 



This is, I believe, an important release. The Artemis Quartet presents what is essentially a revisionist approach to Dvořák, moving the composer’s music far closer than usual to the Janáček also featured here. Indeed, the word ‘revisionist’ crops up in Anthony Short’s excellent booklet notes with regard to Michael Beckermann; presumably referring to the book, ‘Dvořák and his World’. With youth on its side, the Artemis Quartet is perfectly placed to inject renewed vigour into Dvořák’s output. The players lay into their task with zeal, while the upfront recording seems to emphasise the interpretative stance.

The Dvořák of this recording positively buzzes with life. There is little of the slackness of pulse so associated with lyrical contrasts – even the more modernist elements in the first movement are highlighted. 

From the above, it follows logically that the Adagio ma non troppo will become an intense experience, as indeed it does. Almost anguished in its outpouring, it leads to the almost manic ‘Molto vivace’ - now Dvořák sounds exploratory - before a finale presents the boundless energy of youth. If the Vlach Quartet on Supraphon remains my clear recommendation in this work, the Artemis now becomes the modern version to have. 

So it is that on a straight play-through the Janáček is a logical extension of the Dvořák. Yet even here the modernist elements are foregrounded, from the ghostly, spooky passages to the sheer frenzy of the contrastive outbursts. The rustic dance of the finale gives way to unashamedly harsh moments that are almost reminiscent of the white noise of electronic music! Anthony Short again puts his finger on it when he says this quartet is ‘of a stature equal to the finest quartets of Bartók’. The performance here is rightly disturbing at times. 

This is a remarkable release. It is not often one is made to think of standard repertoire in a new way, but that is exactly what this one forces one to do. The recording is rather close, befitting the intensity of experience the players provide. 

Colin Clarke 

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