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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartets - Volume 8
String Quartet No. 3 in D, B18 (1869/70) [63:43]
Vlach Quartet Prague (Jana Vlachová, Karel Stadthere (violins); Petr Vemer (viola); Mikael Ericsson (cello)).
rec. Studio Martinek, Prague, Czech Republic, 6-7 April, 18 June 1998, 27-28 January 1999. DDD
NAXOS 8.553378 [63:43]
Experience Classicsonline

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 volume 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 price-point.

Colin Clarke 

 


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