This fantastic music here receives playing of the highest calibre
in demonstration quality sound. A well planned disc, this is now
one of the top choices for this repertoire.
Dating from late in his life, Janáčék’s
quartets both date from the time of his infatuation with the
young Kamila Stösslová and they mirror the turbulent passion
that racked him at the time. The first quartet was inspired
by Tolstoy’s short story The Kreutzer Sonata, especially
the deep but unspoken love between the two protagonists, which
must have resonated with the elderly man as he contemplated
his separation from the object of his adoration. The second
is the most blatant and forthright depiction of his love for
Kamila in all of Janáčék’s output. Works of genius, they
are characterised by moments of unbearable lyricism which sit
cheek by jowl with howling dissonances, nowhere more so than
in the third movement of No. 1, where a theme of melancholy
beauty is periodically disrupted by unmusical screeching, perhaps
representing the husband in Tolstoy’s story who waits outside
the door to kill the two lovers.
The Leipzig Quartet have the full measure
of these extraordinary masterpieces. They embrace the beauty
of quartet No. 1, but the feeling of barely concealed tension
hovers under the surface right from bar one, making it all the
more shocking when it rears its head. There is a sense of gathering
dread as the quartet - and the story - moves towards its tragic
climax: see, for example, the second movement which has the
feeling of an elegant dance thrown gradually off-kilter by the
malevolent force that hovers around it. There is playing of
striking beauty in the third movement but the horrible tension
forbids us from ever relaxing. Likewise the finale builds to
a whirling climax then abruptly subsides into nothing. Intimate
Letters begins with febrile energy then melts into a gorgeous
section for the viola, which Janáčék originally planned
to score for a viola d’amore – how appropriate! The second
movement is simply the unfolding of a single theme with ever
more ardent passion. The slow movement carries a love theme
which Janáčék described in a letter as “particularly happy”:
the viola playing here is particularly sumptuous, but the incisiveness
of the lower rhythm layers it with plenty of tension. The final
pages of the quartet bring passion and vigour, but still an
element of doubt. Throughout the Leipzig players surge together
as one unit, bringing passion, flair and a deep understanding
of the duality which makes these works so powerful. Janáčék
said the work was “as if carved out of living flesh”: if that’s
true for the notes then it also seems true of the playing in
Room is found for a less nuanced but still
delightful performance of Dvořák’s Cypresses, a
collection of twelve movements based on an early song cycle
of the same name. The original poems focused on a young man’s
unrequited love, and Dvořák rearranged the songs for string
quartet adding new accompanying melodies and counter-melodies.
They make a lovely ensemble, and there is a beautiful “singing”
quality to the playing, such as the violin the opening number,
and the cello in the third and fourth, to name but three examples.
The dominant mood is overwhelmingly lyrical and full of melting
tenderness, quite in keeping with Dvořák’s intentions.
Importantly, they serve as a gentle foil to the stridency of
the Janáčék quartets.
In addition to the marvellous playing I
should mention the disc’s fantastic sound: ideally balanced,
it feels like it’s coming at you from every direction. The playing
is close and clear, but still with a lovely bloom on the sound.
Furthermore, the disc is packed with more than 81 minutes worth
of music, so you get your full value for money.