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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quartet in E flat Op.12 (1829) [23:02] Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Meditation on the St Wenceslas Chorale Op.35a (1914) [6:02] Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
String Quartet in E minor (1873) [22:07]
Kapralova Quartet (Veronika Panochová, Simona Hurníková (violins), Eva Krestová (viola), Simona Hečová (cello))
rec. Domovina Studio, Prague, 12-15 June 2014 ARCODIVA UP 0166-2 231 [51:24]
Founded in 1995 as the Prague Venus Quartet, in 2000 this ensemble took the name of the composer Vítežslava Kaprálová (celebrated as Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3 w/c 12 October 2015). In about 2008 there appears to have been a reorganisation which left the second violinist as the sole founding member still in place. I am told that the present leader is the daughter of the first violinist of the great Panocha Quartet. As now constituted, the group plays to a very high standard but, perhaps in recognition of a burgeoning international career, does not insist on the two acute accents on its title. The English-language version of its website even omits the accents and a single hacek from the individual members’ names.
My heart always sinks slightly when I see that an ensemble has recorded one of Mendelssohn’s early quartets rather than one of the mature works – I emphatically do not subscribe to the view that Mendelssohn ‘went off’ after a promising start. Well, the Kapralova players cheer me up straight away by playing the opening phrases of the E flat Quartet ravishingly and maintaining this standard right through the Adagio introduction, before setting a good tempo for the Allegro and keeping up its impetus to the end. The famous Canzonetta is delightful and the equally brief Andante finds the players taking Mendelssohn’s ‘espressivo’ to heart, with heartfelt phrasing which never tips over into vulgarity. They really get stuck into the finale, while also playing its quieter moments sensitively.
Verdi’s single quartet was made popular by the Bohemian and Busch Quartets among others, and became such a hit that the Quartetto Italiano got tired of being asked for it and dropped it from their repertoire. The Kapralova ladies take it seriously: they are nicely robust with the first subject of the Allegro, contrastingly lyrical with the second subject, and end the movement with fire. They take the differing sections of the Andantino as they come, variously giving us charm and beautiful tone, more robustness, lyricism and so on. They bring verve to the saltarello-like Prestissimo, with a lovely cello solo in its barcarolle-like central section, and start the fugal finale neatly and quietly, keeping excellent rhythm until the end.
Josef Suk wrote his Meditation for himself and his colleagues in the Bohemian Quartet, finishing it two days before the Great War broke out. The foursome played it at all their wartime concerts, as a way of demonstrating their Czech nationalism while under the heel of Austria. The Kapralovas have already recorded it once, in their previous incarnation. They begin it simply, playing very beautifully, and increase the intensity until it becomes almost unbearable; yet they never quite overdo it.
The recordings, made in the familiar Domovina Studio, are excellent: the cello is always audible and the balance generally is very good. I have two quibbles. Another complete work could easily have been included; and this sort of varied programme is a nightmare for collectors and librarians alike. It is the kind of programme that groups produce as a visiting card, to show agents and impresarios some of their range; but surely a quartet with a history of 20 years ought to be displaying its talents in music by one composer at a time. The original line-up made a Schnittke disc which was well received, although it never came my way. That is the sort of thing the Kapralovas should now be doing, in my opinion.