The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Pražák Quartet
Three Mozart masterpieces played by four Czech masters of their craft. It ought to make for plain sailing, and I thoroughly enjoyed these performances. But nowadays we hear an astonishing range of string playing styles and readers need to be informed that the Pražák Quartet operates at the old-fashioned end of the spectrum.
The wide vibrato of leader Václav Remes takes me back to Norbert Brainin of the Amadeus, if not to the even more distant Jenö Léner. Both were excellent Mozartians but today we generally expect something different. The best Czech Mozartian of former days, Jirí Novák of the Smetana Quartet, had a lovely vibrato and kept it within bounds.
Other aspects of the Pražák’s Mozart are almost too modern, such as the brisk tempo for the slow introduction to the ‘Dissonance’. It lasts 1:22 mins, to the Kolisch’s 1:44 (Columbia) and the Smetana’s 1:42 (Denon). In this work I would like a little more of the fine cellist (in the ‘Hunt’ and the D minor he is given a firmer image).
I enjoy the Pražák’s injection of a bit of muscle into development sections and minuets, but the Menuetto of K421 is a little too heavy, although the trio is fine. In the Adagio of the ‘Hunt’, the last two notes of the opening phrase are delivered rather pedantically each time. Everywhere else the phrasing is eloquent and the musicianship bespeaks the players’ vast experience of the music and of each other. Good recordings for the most part.