Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
String Quartet No. 1, The Kreutzer Sonata (1923) [17:15]
String Quartet No. 2, Intimate Letters (1928) [25:10]
Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
String Quartet No.1 (1924) [14:36]
Talich Quartet
rec. December 2004 (Janáček) and March 2005 (Schulhoff), Studio Arco Diva, Prague
La Dolce Volta, distributed by Harmonia Mundi, has obtained access to a healthy chunk of the Talich Quartet's Calliope back catalogue, and is busily reissuing it. Interestingly the notes are in Japanese, as well as French, English and German and it looks as if the string tradition on disc is healthier than ever in that country.

The Talich have set down the Quartets on three occasions: for Supraphon in 1990, and for Calliope in 1985 (with Kvapil's excellent account of Book I of On an Overgrown Path as coupling) and 2004 (with the Schulhoff). It is the latter which has been reissued here.

The recorded sound is warm, slightly resonant and provides a rich cushion for the Talich, whose playing marries appropriate tonal bloom, with incisive, icy brilliance. The playing throughout in fact is acutely perceptive as to string weight, balance and most importantly tempo and rubato. The luscious accelerandi in the second movement of the Kreutzer sonata, coupled with the tensile colours they find, shape and delineate each page of the work, and chart its narrative with requisite drive and release of tension. That's most true in the third movement, where the brittle, almost keening sonorities, individually and collectively, sculpt the trajectory with drama, and sure awareness of its crisis points. The lyric sweep of the finale receives full due here, too. In Intimate Letters, the Talich similarly locate the music's emotive heart, the longing and passion, propelled through little cells and outbursts alike. Those intense high pitched trills are the more effective for the group's control of dynamics. Their swaggering start to the finale is perfectly subverted by the music's almost immediate relapse into introversion. In terms of sonority, tempo relations, ensemble and interpretative insight, this is very much one of the best recordings of the quartets available.

Their Schulhoff Quartet, too, is highly recommendable. In terms of apt tonal sophistication I don't think it can be matched. The eponymous Schulhoff Quartet on VMS138 is more terse, but very effective, and the Brandis on Nimbus is surprisingly not as plush as I had expected, thought they tend to make a meal of the finale. The Talich take the best qualities from both these groups. There's a fine swing to the first movement and excellent folkloric-inspired fiddling in the alla Slovacca, the third movement, the finale is the work's reserved core, a sustained and concentrated span that is perfectly realised here.

In short, there's every reason to welcome back this newly repackaged trio of recordings.

Jonathan Woolf
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