Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
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.
The Guarneri seem very much in sympathy with Dvořák’s bucolic