Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartets
Terzetto in C Op.74 (1887) [18:50]
No.11 in C Op.61 (1881) [34:22]
No.12 in F major Op.96 American B.179 (1893) [24:12]
No.13 in G major Op.106 B.192 (1895) [36:05]
No.14 in A flat Op.105 (1895) [29:10]
Guarneri Quartet (Arnold Steinhardt, John Dalley (violins); Michael Tree (viola); David Soyer (cello)).
rec. 18-19 December 1972 (Terzetto); 10-11, 13 April 1972 (11 & 12) and 13-14 December 1979 (13), New York, USA; 4, 7, 9, 11 June 1965, Webster Hall, New York, USA (14). ADD.
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802088 [77:34 + 66:22]  

After my disappointment with their Schubert late quartets from the same label, I am delighted to endorse this anthology from the Guarneri. They seem to be so much more in sympathy with Dvořák’s bucolic lyricism than the tormented, Angst-ridden beauty of Schubert’s idiom and although they do not bring quite the same overt attack as, say, the Lindsays to the furiants, there is a gentle naturalness to their playing which allows the music to unfold without any self-conscious striving after effect.
They are above all a polished ensemble whose unanimity and precision are wholly admirable. Although these recordings date from the 1960s and 1970s, the sound is beautifully warm and balanced without any undue prominence being given to any one instrument. Despite the deserved fame of its successor - the so-called American Quartet No.14 - Op. 106 no.13 is the most innovative and challenging work here and the Guarneri play it immaculately, providing homogeneity without taming it too much - a flaw too apparent in the Schubert. The American itself is liltingly seductive: its simple, unforced lyricism and quirky cross-rhythms have guaranteed its place as Dvořák’s most popular string quartet. You will never hear a coarse or indulgent phrase from this most stylish of ensembles and the restraint that hobbled the Schubert issue does not apply here. They caress Dvořák’s melodies in the slower sections lovingly then pick up the pace for the vivace passages without losing poise. The first movement repeat is not observed.  

Op. 105, begun in New York but completed on his return, is another of those works in which the composer expressed his patriotism and nostalgia for his homeland by employing a range of devices borrowed from traditional Czech music. The opening is extraordinarily sombre and intense but soon yields to a consolatory melodious quality. The second movement is another furiant with many syncopations and a succession of rhythmic gear-changes. The Adagio is - as is so often the case in such music - the heart of the quartet. It does not return to the stark sobriety of the opening but rather sings a tender refrain which courts sentimentality but avoids it through the delicacy and poignancy of its harmonies. The Finale is bold and dramatic; its headlong rush interrupted by an unexpected, lyrical second subject. The Guarneri encompasses all the demands of this work such that the listener quite loses awareness of any “interpretation”.
The Terzetto, originally scored for two violins and the composer’s own viola, is a lovely, if minor, work, here given a masterly performance: all is grace and fluidity, bringing out the extraordinary inventiveness and colour Dvořák was able to find in what might otherwise have been the relatively limited palette afforded by three such instruments. The little “sul ponticello” phrases are delightfully perky.
This is by no means the only recommendation I would make for a recording of Dvořák’s quartets; the series on Naxos by the Vlach Quartet is a very attractive super-bargain option and the Lindsays in their “Bohemians” series on ASV are equally viable as well as providing rather more temperament. Nonetheless, the easy elegance and refinement of the Guarneri in a bargain double-CD slimline format with good notes remain an excellent option.
Ralph Moore 

The Guarneri seem very much in sympathy with Dvořák’s bucolic lyricism.