Thu, Jun 26, 2014 - Page 11 News List

Classical CD reviews

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

You can even go one better and opt for a collection by Stamitz of the complete quartets of the most celebrated Czech composers on 15 CDs. This gives you all of Dvorak’s, Janacek’s two, Smetana’s two and Martinu’s seven, all in versions that have been praised for their clarity and intelligence. The catalogue number here is Brilliant Classics 9410.

A newcomer is the Vogler Quartet’s project of issuing the whole Dvorak set. They opened with a two-CD item containing Quartets 9, 10 and 12 (“American”), plus Cypresses and the Bagatelles, popular items also for string quartet, plus harmonium in the latter case. This won the Editor’s Choice award for February 2013 in Gramophone magazine.

Lastly, the youthful Pavel Haas Quartet won the top accolade from Gramophone, its Record of the Year award in 2011, for their CD of Nos: 12 (“American”) and 13 on the Supraphon label (SU 40382). It was an astonishing achievement.

A word about the “American” quartet. This is by far the best-known of these works but, though attractive, it’s by no means the best. It won this title because it was composed in Spillville, Iowa. I personally prefer several of the others, notably the neglected but marvelous 5th and the wonderful 10th. A knowledgeable friend also prefers the final two, the 13th and 14th.

The very early quartets are also worth investigating. Critics say the influence of Liszt and Wagner is still strong in these works, but why shouldn’t this be viewed as an advantage?

So, if you’re unfamiliar with this music, sample a single CD. Try Quartets 10 and 14 on Naxos 8.553374, or (if you must have the “American”) Quartets 12 and 13 on Naxos 8.553371. Alternatively, listen to any of the quartets played by the Stamitz Quartet on YouTube. I simply can’t believe that anyone would be disappointed.

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