One of the most grown-up review sites around


Search MusicWeb Here

     
  
 

 

International mailing


  Founder: Len Mullenger             Senior Editor: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider


16th-19th November


Shostakovich 4, 11 Nelsons
Transparent Granite!


Nothing but Praise


BrucKner 4 Nelsons
the finest of recent years.

superb BD-A sound

This is a wonderful set


Telemann continues to amaze


A superb disc

Performances to cherish

An extraordinary disc.

rush out and buy this

I favour above all the others

Frank Martin - Exemplary accounts

Asrael Symphony
A major addition


Another Bacewicz winner


match any I’ve heard


An outstanding centenary collection


personable, tuneful, approachable


a very fine Brahms symphony cycle.


music that will be new to most people


telling, tough, thoughtful, emotionally fleet and powerfully recorded


hitherto unrecorded Latvian music

 


Support us financially by purchasing this from

Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
String Quartet No.1 in E minor ‘From My Life’ (1876) [28:06]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 ‘American’ (1893) [3:34]
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
String Quartet in B flat Major Op. 11 (1896, finale rev. 1915) [29:05]
Bohemian Quartet
rec. 1928
PARNASSUS PACD96058 [80:53]

The series of 78s made by the Bohemian String Quartet, also known as the Czech String Quartet, is one of the most valuable we have. The recordings preserve a style of playing now wholly lost and is rooted in late nineteenth-century procedures as to vibrato and tone production. By the late 20s, when these recordings were made – they had recorded acoustically back in 1925 - the foursome were still only in their 50s (in fact cellist Ladislav Zelenka was still only in his late 40s). The most famous member of the group is second violinist Josef Suk who, along with first violin Karel Hoffmann, had been a founder member back in 1892. The violist for these recordings was Jiří Herold who took over from composer-conductor-executant Oskar Nebdal, who left in 1906. Zelenka replaced the great Hanuš Wihan, who himself had taken over from original member Otto Berger.

So much for the personnel. There are three quartets in this well-filled disc. One can make endless comparisons between this recording of Smetana’s First Quartet and Dvořák’s American and the almost contemporaneous ones by the equally Czech Ševčik-Lhotsy Quartet, whose quivering portamenti are bewitching to hear. The Bohemian Quartet employed limited vibrato, plenty of portamenti and evinced an occasional uneasy relationship with tight ensemble. It can lead to messy approximations along the way – this is the very opposite of sleek cosmopolitan quartet playing – but it is consistently characterful, fascinatingly phrased, and full of utterly authentic-sounding rhythm. Intonation certainly wanders – the Ševčik-Lhotsy’s series of discs was famous for this, not helped apparently by a hot recording studio playing played havoc with the gut strings – but heard in context these are wonderful and lasting statements about quartet playing of the time, albeit ones that must have seemed – like the Capet Quartet in Paris, or Bronislaw Huberman – anachronistic in terms of tone production. Listen to the close of the Smetana however, played with almost innocent melancholy and you experience a sound-world unlike any other on disc.

What the notes don’t reveal is that the recording of Dvořák’s American Quartet was an electric remake of their late acoustic 1925 Vox set. Once again, this classic recording lacks all sense of virtuoso sheen. It may well be the case that the four players were lesser technicians than the many younger ensembles of the time but there is a deeply moving sense of corporate identification at work, and a really penetrating play of wit and humour in the scherzo that I’m not sure has ever been equaled. The folkloric elements too are incarnated with wonderful innocence. It helps to have the composer’s son-in-law playing second violin; it certainly adds a frisson, even if one is impervious to such associations. Indeed, Josef Suk’s First Quartet ends the disc, a work securely versed in Dvořák’s lexicon. The charming March themes in the Intermezzo are richly projected and there is a slight surprise in the finale. This is the 1915 revision, not the 1896 original. Suk obviously wanted to present his rather more modern face in this movement though many groups on record prefer the original.

Parnassus is offering the electrical recordings made by the group not included here – isolated quartet movements – on its website. As yet, there seems to be no similar offer on its acoustical legacy. The transfers are by Ward Marston and are customarily excellent. Many years ago, Biddulph put out a twofer containing recordings by the Bohemian Quartet and the 1930s Prague Quartet, another interesting compare-and-contrast exercise. I suspect these were also Marston transfers but haven’t the set to do my own contrasting. In any case that’s a second-hand acquisition now. In the meantime, this is a cornerstone quartet purchase for the historically minded.

Jonathan Woolf




Advertising on
Musicweb



Donate and keep us afloat

 

New Releases

Naxos Classical


Nimbus Podcast


Obtain 10% discount


Special offer 50% off

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
   
Rob Barnett
Senior Editor
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
   Vacant
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger