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Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartet No. 13 in G Major, B. 192 (Op. 106) [39:49]
Josef SUK (1874–1935)
Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale ‘St. Wenceslas’, Op.35 [6.54]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
String Quartet No.1, ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ [18:28]
Wihan Quartet (Leoš Čepický, Jan Schulmeister (violins); Jakub Čepický (viola); Aleš Kaspřík (cello))
rec. Martinů Hall, Academy of Performing Arts, Prague, 30-31 May 2015

I enjoyed this CD very much and it represents a good sampler of the Czech repertory as performed by a fine Czech quartet. The Wihan Quartet has been around for thrity years, but this is their first CD since the retirement of viola player, Jiři Sigmund, in 2014. His place has been taken by Jakub Čepický, son of the leader, and, on the evidence of this CD a fine, warm-toned musician.

The opening piece, Dvořák’s Quartet No 13, Op. 106, sets the tone for the entire CD. It was the quartet written — in four weeks — on the composer’s return to Prague, in 1895. It is a spacious work of around 40 minutes; not as long as his first, rarely played first quartet, which is over seventy minutes long.

The recording here is spacious, with all parts beautifully clear and articulated. It is not always useful to compare timings between recordings, but here they are informative. In their outstanding 2010 recording, the Pavel Haas Quartet timings of the four movements (Wihan in brackets) were 9.18 [10.09], 10.13 [10.48], 6.24 [7.29] 10.34 [11.23].

Timing is only part of the story – what is more spacious here has a beauty of articulation and voice and a rhythmic security. Each recording has its own intensity and each brings out in its own way the richness of this happy work. If the molto vivace seems measured at first, it opens into glorious yearning. I would not want to be without either recording and will return to it often.

The Suk is not well-known, but is an interesting piece, written in a nationalistic vein on the outbreak of the First World War around a chorale whose final words were ‘O save us and future generations from perishing’. It is a piece written in meditative hope – nothing of the jingoist here. The nationalism is qualified: it is Czech rather than Austrian nationalism. A major part belongs to the viola, which tends to announce each phrase – perhaps why this was chosen.

The Janáček, ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ is beautifully played. One senses here a deep affection for this oddly terse piece, with a world of deep feeling. The desire to probe is again evident. Interestingly, timings are close to those of the Pavel Haas on their 2007 recording on Supraphon, though slower than the brisk Stamitz (Brilliant Classics). In Janacek it is important always to hear the sound of the human voice in the phrasing and emphases – that is certainly present here.

The recording quality is excellent throughout, and notes are informative. An excellent recording of great quartets.

Michael Wilkinson



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