The Strad's experts evaluate the latest string recordings
Smetana: String Quartet no.1 in E minor ‘From my life’. Janáček: String Quartets no.1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ & no.2 ‘Intimate Letters’
Performances that bring out the personal nature of the works’ inspirations
Wednesday, 02 April 2014
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902178
It is clear from the opening of Smetana’s First Quartet that the Jerusalem players have the quality essential for all these deeply personal works: character, and lots of it. It shows itself in myriad details, even as the music sweeps energetically onwards, in the tailing of a phrase, a beautifully judged dynamic shading, the length and tone given to a staccato note. Everything is alive and colourful, whether subtle or broad: second violin and viola carry off their trumpet impersonations splendidly in Smetana’s Polka, and the finale swings along with an infectious mixture of the light and the earthy. The final sense of grief at Smetana’s deafness is palpable.
There is grief, too, in Janáček's First Quartet, where the players eloquently capture his portrait of a trapped young woman, mixing beauty and despair. They negotiate the quick-change emotional and dramatic extremes with their own palette of colour and theatrical flair.
Much of the Second Quartet is very beautiful (aside from the terrifying outbursts) in its phrasing, shaping and simply in quality of sound. All three of these performances are ultimately deeply moving, each in their own way. The recorded sound is excellent, clear and warm.
From the April 2014 issue. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial.