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Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
String Quartet No. 1 “Kreutzer Sonata” (1923) [18:19]
Allegro for Violin and Piano (1916) [4:35]
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1914 rev. 1921) [18:10]
String Quartet No. 2 “Intimate Letters” (1928) [25: 40]
Dante Quartet (Krysia Osostowicz (violin); Giles Francis (violin); Judith Busbridge (viola); Bernard Gregor-Smith (cello))
Krysia Osostowicz (violin); Ferenc Rados (piano) (Allegro, Sonata)
rec. 13-15 December 2006, St. Edward the Confessor’s Church, Mottingham, London, UK. DDD
MERIDIAN CDE84560 [66:50] 
Experience Classicsonline

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.

It 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. 

The 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! 

Overall, 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. 

Leslie Wright 



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