Dvorak String Quartets Vol. 1 – Vogler Quartet
My advice is to tackle Op 34 first, undoubtedly one of Dvořák’s early masterpieces, and although the Vogler Quartet opt to omit the long first-movement exposition repeat (unlike the Wihan Quartet and the Vlach Quartet Prague), they pack so much expressive variety into even the first minute of their performance that you’re bound to be hooked. The eerie transition to the development section (from around 3'31") is given with just the right amount of sustained tension, and while in the Polka second movement the Voglers don’t quite match the Prague City Quartet’s inimitable lilt (what quartet does?), they still manage what you might call a credible dance routine. The Adagio opens to three minutes of pure bliss, the thematic material both graceful and warm, with muted scoring and luscious harmonies, Dvořák operating at the very height of his powers. And yet, speaking personally, I always feel that he doesn’t quite know where to go from there: the movement seems stuck in the groove of its second subject, only to end on a charming but oddly indecisive envoi. By contrast, the strutting, Brahmsian finale is dramatic and concise, and the Voglers play both movements with consummate sensitivity and skill.
Op 51 harbours another lyrical highlight (aside from its Romance), a bardic-style Dumka with violin and viola lamenting their sorrows above pizzicato arpeggios on the cello. Prior to being whisked off for a final flourish, we’re ushered in among meltingly beautiful falling cadences, while on this recording, as with Op 34, the opening Allegro teems with interpretative life, blandly swaying to start with, then progressing via some animated badinage to a heartfelt statement of the second subject (1'24").
As with the other quartets in the double-pack, the American is played with what sounds like spontaneous engagement, the scherzo a pert ‘heigh-ho’ harbouring, as with the Pavel Haas Quartet, an initially mysterious second subject (0'49"), the viola (Dvořák’s own instrument) always a prominent voice. Think in terms of Kubelík’s recordings of the Dvořák symphonies, that same attention to inner voices and plenty of amiable interplay between instruments.
The Cypresses alternate wit and tenderness, and in the Bagatelles the harmonium, which at times sounds almost like a chamber organ, blends warmly with the quartet texture. It’s an auspicious start to what promises to be a rewarding series, with Op 34, a litmus test for any quartet in Dvořák, enjoying one of its best-ever recorded performances. CPO’s sound is warm and lifelike.