The Vlach Quartet Prague should not be confused with the original
Vlach Quartet - see, for example, the latter’s coupling
of Dvořák Thirteenth Quartet and Tchaikovsky Third here
While reviewing the previous
of this series, I gave a potted history of the present
Vlach Quartet’s history.
The same comment about recording quality pretty much applies
- “not over-warm but detail is exemplary”, except
that on the present occasion the edge and lack of depth as well
as tone seemed more distracting, especially in the third movement
- producer and engineer was Václav Zamazal).
Dvořák’s Third Quartet is hardly concise. It
lasts over an hour; the first movement alone is nearly 24 minutes,
and the rest of the four movements are all not too far off a
quarter of an hour each. The composer had clearly not yet learned
the art of tasteful pruning. Neither had he shorn himself of
the influence of Liszt and Wagner - parts of the first movement
pine for Siegfried Idyll
The infinite length of the first movement invites a different
course of listening, one that quite simply goes with the flow
in what can seem like an eighteenth-century Czech stream of consciousness.
It is important to jettison expectations of duration, and once
that is achieved much enjoyment is there for the taking. The
Andantino, too, as an easy fluency about it, along with a distinct
conversational element that exists between the four protagonists.
The third movement quotes “Hej, Slované”,
a patriotic song popular during the development of the Czech
national movement. It is here that the lack of depth of field
to the recording is felt the most, however - the finale seems
less afflicted somehow. The finale is perhaps the most meandering
movement. It is, though, the one with the most obvious Dvořákian
fingerprints - there are moments when the composer almost seems
to be putting his characteristic gestures in quotation marks,
they stand out so much. It is as if he suddenly finds his voice
for a moment, then turns down the focus after a short period
to return to the earlier modes of expression.
None of the four movements are written in the white heat of inspiration.
That, plus the fact that the present release was recorded in
four instalments over nine months - one studio session per movement
- means that this can only be an interim recommendation, even
in a limited field. If you follow the advice given at the beginning
of the review as a listening strategy, though, many delights
await, plus there is the opportunity to trace the development
of one of the great composers’ voices from a cheap price-point.
Supraphon has paved the way in issuing Dvořák’s
operas, in particular, plus many glorious other recordings. If
the current issue whets your appetite, the Brilliant Classics
box of the complete Dvořák quartets played by the
Stamitz Quartet (Brilliant 99949) is well worth investigating;
again, it is buried in an eight-CD set with the eminently recommendable
Panocha Quartet this time, on Supraphon (SU38152), at a similar