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Paths SU43042
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Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)
String Quartet No. 1, JW VII/8 Kreutzer Sonata (1923) arr Jiří Kabát (2021)
Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942)
Duo for violin and cello (1925)
Gideon Klein (1919-1945)
Duo for violin and cello (1941)
Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959)
Duo for violin and cello No.1, H157 (1927)
Duo for violin and cello No.2, H371 (1958)
Josef Špaček (violin)
Tomáš Jamník (cello)
rec. 2021, Niměřice Chateau, Czech Republic
SUPRAPHON SU4304-2 [66]

Two of the Czech Republic’s leading string players join forces here. Josef Špaček, for a decade until 2020 the leader/concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic, and Berlin-based Tomáš Jamník are both closely associated with the recently established Ševčik Academy.

They have focused on native duo repertoire from the twentieth century to which they have added the Janáček String Quartet No.1 in its arrangement for violin and cello by Jiří Kabát. Since the disc opens with it but says nothing about the arrangement, I should add that Kabát is an experienced violist of long standing – ex-Vlach and Pavel Haas Quartets - and was asked to carry out the arrangement by Špaček and Jamník for this album. Given Janáček originally composed a Piano Trio based on Tolstoy’s novella Kreutzer Sonata, which he later revised into a string quartet, the arrangement for the two instruments – paradoxically, perhaps – doesn’t seem, and certainly doesn’t sound, too radical. Since Janáček’s sound world is so uniquely abrupt and contrastive, so impervious to conventional declamation, the quartet manages the feat of converting itself to the duo repertoire with admirable logic. And that’s how it’s played, helped by the rich acoustic of Niměřice chateau. Obviously, this isn’t for everyday listening, as one misses the density of the original, with its inner part writing, but as an occasional listen it works ingeniously well.

The rest of the programme is more conventional. Schulhoff’s Duo was dedicated to Janáček and was composed for members of Schulhoff’s trio. The distinctive tangy drive of the Romany-inspired Zingaresca is especially well done and the Moderato finale is both incisive and intense, its galloping figures generating real heat. This performance is certainly more intense than the old Supraphon standby, from 1994, played by Pavel Hůla and Václav Bernášek (SU 112167-2 131). Gideon Klein’s 1941 Duo divides into a fast first movement and a slow second one. Daniel Hope and Paul Watkins also recorded this, for Nimbus NI5702 (review), as they did the Schulhoff too, with a similar sense of bravado. Don’t be fooled by the timings for this latest release as it includes 25 seconds of silence in the second movement – one second for each year of Klein’s life. I’m not wholly convinced by the appropriateness of this but it’s hardly going to sway matters.

The last two works are the Duos of Martinů. The earlier dates from 1927 and the second duo from 1958, the year before his death. The detail that separates the recording of the First Duo from any other is the editorial work that has been necessary in its Rondo finale, where redundancies and errors have been removed. The resultant performance revels in the work’s sheer virtuosity and brilliance, even with its tricky rhythms, so that it emerges full of dynamism and excitement. The Second Duo, written at Paul Sacher’s villa, finds textures necessarily lighter and more flexible with a sonorously lyrical slow movement that ends quietly, before the folkloric élan of the finale. This last movement bears some similarity with his chamber cantata The Opening of the Wells, a radiant work that had been composed just three years earlier. If anything, I prefer these performances to those of Jana Vlachová and Mikael Ericsson on Bonton 71 0527-2, whose loving tempo for the second movement of the Duo No.2 is perhaps a touch too indulged.

If you buy this disc you’ll understand its title, Paths. A separate fold-out sheet traces the pathways of each of the composer, each town or city visited marked by a coloured dot on a map of Europe and North America. There’s an obvious omission. Janáček came to London in 1926 for concerts of his music – unfortunately for him, it was in the middle of the General Strike – so if you buy the disc get your red marker pen and add a suitable dot – and then see if you can find further omissions.

World maps aside, this is a splendidly incisive, tonally resplendent disc from two of the best musicians in the Czech Republic. As noted, the recording has an amplitude and depth that inflates the two instruments but doesn’t swamp them, and the documentation is fine (that missing dot excepted).

Jonathan Woolf

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