The first things one notices when listening to these performances
are idiomatic playing and interpretation and the resonant, somewhat
artificial, sound of the recordings. Fortunately, after listening
for a bit one gets used to the sound. More important, the performances
themselves are likely the best I’ve heard by a non-Czech ensemble.
For the purposes of this review, I will use as a reference recordings
of the quartets by the Janáček, Smetana, Talich, and Škampa
quartets and for the Sonata, Gawriloff/Mishory, Amoyal/Rudy, and
Suk/Firkušný. It must be noted that, contrary to what the booklet
states, this is not the first recording of the Allegro for Violin
and Piano. It has been recorded several times in the past. Indeed,
Gawriloff/Mishory include it on their recording of the Sonata.
used to be that only Czech groups recorded these works, but
in recent years the quartets have entered the repertoire of
most of the world’s renowned string quartets and are considered
two of the greatest string quartets of the twentieth century.
Having heard the Alban Berg, Juilliard, and others and finding
these groups not really “getting” Janáček, I was pleasantly
surprised with these new recordings by the Dante Quartet. Their
tempos seem to me about ideal, clearly preferable to the rather
rushed Smetana Quartet live recording of 1979 (Supraphon). Compare
for example, the last movement of the Quartet No. 2. The Dante
with a measured tempo is much more convincing than the mad dash
made by the Smetana, which sounds almost hilarious by comparison.
Here the Dante are more in line with the classic 1963 recording
by the Janáček Quartet (Supraphon) by which I first became
acquainted with these works. So, it goes throughout this disc.
The Dante have an instinctive feel for this music that is most
rewarding, even if they do not replace such Czech groups as
the Talich (Supraphon and Calliope) and Škampa (Supraphon) in
my affections. The latter’s recording, one of the more recent
ones, contains performances of great dynamism that nevertheless
also impress with a real depth of feeling. Unfortunately, one
gets only slightly more than 40 minutes’ worth of music on a
full-price CD with the Škampa. A much better bargain are the
Talich Quartet’s recordings that also contain other works. I
am particularly partial to their Supraphon accounts that are
middle-of-the road interpretations, beautifully played and recorded.
And their disc comes with a most idiomatic account of the delightful
Mládí wind sextet by the Prague Wind Quintet with bass
clarinetist Petr Čáp. All the same, the Dante can hold
their own in this exalted company.
remainder of the disc contains the Violin Sonata, which like
the quartets is being taken up now by many of the world’s great
violinists — even if not with the same frequency as the quartets
— and the Allegro, which is really a first draft of the Sonata’s
third movement with a different introduction and slower tempo.
While it is good to have this rarely performed and recorded
movement, without it the important Fairy Tale for Cello
and Piano would have fit on the CD and made an even more compelling
program. As it stands, the performances of the Violin Sonata
and the Allegro by the Osostowicz/Rados duo are as good as any
in the catalogue. Their strongest competition in these works
together is by Saschko Gawriloff and Gilead Mishory on a 1995
Tudor disc. The present couple compare well with them. In the
more frequently performed Sonata there is greater competition
— not only the above-cited accounts, but also the famous
recording by Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich on DG. Of my referenced
recordings, I am particularly fond of the live performance on
Supraphon by Czech specialists Josef Suk and Rudolf Firkušný
from the 1992 Prague Spring Festival. Theirs is the most exciting
account of the work I know, even if they do take the third movement
at such a brisk tempo that important detail is lost. Both it
and the Gawriloff/Mishory recording are superior to Amoyal/Rudy
(EMI), a disc that also contains the Fairy Tale and excellent
accounts of the Capriccio and Concertino. I should
point out, though, that Rados has provided his own vocal obbligato
in the performances on the present disc but this does not really
detract from the recording and adds a personal touch!
then, while these works have plenty of recorded competition,
especially from native Czech artists, this disc can be recommended
on its own. I plan to keep it and will take it off the shelf
whenever I want to hear how non-Czech musicians interpret this
wonderful music with a real understanding of the idiom.