DVOŘÁK; SUK; JANÁČEK String Quartets
Right from the off in Dvořák’s late G major Quartet you can tell that the Wihan Quartet are taking an inflected route. They draw a crescendo over the demi-semiquaver figure for the violins more vividly than do the Pavel Haas Quartet on their Supraphon recording – although the PHQ achieve rather more in the way of drama and are also marginally more limpid in the second subject. Both quartets achieve a glowing canvas for the wonderful Adagio but, come the scherzo, the Wihan set off at a noticeably slower tempo. Nor do they push the pace in the finale as much as the PHQ, whose version is as fresh as any we’ve had in years. But the Wihan play sensitively and their fill-ups are especially imaginative.
Josef Suk’s Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale ‘St Wenceslas’ is a masterly example of contrapuntal quartet-writing, and in addition to infusing individual lines with expressive weight the Wihan manage to keep textures admirably clear. Janá∂ek’s First Quartet is also well observed, especially near the beginning of the work where cello, first violin and second violin respectively tail two bars’ worth of Adagio with a fidgety Con moto, each time growing more animated (a successively faster metronome is indicated). The second movement is teasingly playful, with icy sul ponticellos, the opening of the fourth movement persuasively lyrical. The Wihan make a persuasively narrative statement of a work that can too often sound disjointed, and they are well served by their recording.
As to a coupling for the Dvořák, the Pavel Haas wheel out the American Quartet – a very good performance but rather surplus to requirements in a crowded field – whereas the Wihan at least provide an imaginative programme context for all three works. I’d recommend them unless you’re hell-bent on having the two main items coupled with Dvořák and Janáček respectively, in which case there are plenty of excellent options available, not least the Pražák, Lindsay and Panocha Quartets (Dvořák) and the Hagen, Jerusalem, Takács and Talich Quartets (Janáček).