SMETANA; JANÁČEK String Quartets
There is much to admire here from the excellent Jerusalem Quartet. In Smetana’s First Quartet there is the fine opening viola melody; the sensitively played Largo, heart of a tragic work; and, brilliantly done, the sense of panic in the succeeding Vivace that plunges towards the dreadful moment when the first violin’s high E – though this could have been more piercingly played – signals the cruel tinnitus symptom of the syphilis that was wrecking Smetana’s life. The slow movements of the Janáček quartets are also carefully and thoughtfully played. The First Quartet’s Con moto is veiled with sadness, and with a sense of the danger threatening from the sinister seducer of the Tolstoy programme inspiring the work; the Second Quartet’s Adagio is inward and quietly reflective, and sustains something of its mood to shadow the succeeding Moderato, which is taken almost as a pensive valse triste.
Something of the abruptness, even violence, that characterises Janáček’s Second Quartet is lacking, as with the desperate interventions in the third movement. So is the sense of dance that permeates all three quartets, with the polka impetus in Smetana’s Allegro moderato and the Allegro of Janáček’s Second. This is something that is often latent elsewhere, and is especially effective in animating the music in the performances by the Vlach (Panton) and Talich (Supraphon) quartets, still outstanding records. The present recordings are generally excellent, and effective in capturing all the unusual, not to say eccentric effects which Janáček wishes upon his players and the long-suffering recording engineers.