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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Johann Wenzel KALLIWODA (1801-1866)
String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, Op. 61 [26:06]
String Quartet No. 2 in A, Op. 62 [19:57]
String Quartet No. 3 in G, Op.90 [30:12]
Talich Quartet
rec. October 2005, Studio ArcoDiva, Prague
LA DOLCE VOLTA LDV260 [76:15]

Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda is one of the most underrated composers of the romantic era, and this reissue offers us a new chance to hear his superb string quartets. The original release was praised by my colleague Michael Cookson as "exciting discoveries", and "highly gratifying quartets" for "admirers of Haydn, Mozart and Mendelssohn". Throw in Schumann and you've got a good description of the wide appeal of this excellent music.

The three quartets deserve a firm place in the early romantic repertoire. Aside from total originality, Kalliwoda has many gifts of the major composer: fine craft and skill in writing each part; catchy melody - the disc starts with a compelling tune in E minor. Add to these, formal ingenuity and the ability to write music that moves in unexpected, satisfying directions.

Each quartet is full of small creative touches, like the pizzicato scherzo in Quartet No. 1, foreshadowing Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony and evoking a chorus of mandolins. The second quartet's brief scherzo jumps from minor to major keys as if it was by a young Brahms. Its equally brief slow movement comes breathtakingly close to writing out the tune "O Canada" [track 7, 1:16].

After the cleverness of the first two quartets, No. 3 is a bit of a retrograde step, since it reaches back to the 18th century tradition of the first violin occupying the foreground and the other three instruments supporting. On the other hand, there are still places where I smile, like the first movement's coda, where an increasingly busy, virtuosic passage dissipates instantly with two light pizzicato chords. The scherzo could have been orchestrated and inserted into a Schumann symphony.

This Talich Quartet disc earned a lot of praise when it first appeared, and still deserves it all. They truly play the works as if nobody has told them Kalliwoda is obscure or unappreciated. The recordings date back to just 2005, although surprisingly La Dolce Volta has re-mastered them anyways. The disc sounds great. One caveat about the packaging: I'm usually a fan of cardboard slipcases over plastic jewel boxes, but this one is odd. To remove the CD, you must tug it out of one cardboard sleeve; to remove the booklet, you must tug it out of another sleeve. It's unusually awkward. Still, if you didn't get the original release, you ought to have this.

Brian Reinhart