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Janacek: String Quartets, Violin Sonata, Etc / Dante Quartet

Release Date: 11/13/2007 
Label:  Meridian Records   Catalog #: 84560   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Leos Janácek
Performer:  Krysia OsostowiczFerenc Rados
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dante Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

JANÁ?EK String Quartets: No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata;” No. 2, “Intimate Letters.” Allegro. 1 Violin Sonata Dante Qrt; Krysia Osostowicz (vn); 1 Ferenc Rados (pn) 1 MERIDIAN 84560 (66: 50)

Leoš Janá?ek’s two string quartets have long Read more stood among the 20th century’s most important contributions to the literature, alongside the quartets of Bartók and Shostakovich. Considering their dates of composition—1914 and 1928 respectively—one cannot consider Janá?ek’s musical vocabulary radically modern or avant-garde for its time. By 1914, Bartók’s First String Quartet was already five years old, Schoenberg had already published his first two quartets, and Webern beat them all to the punch with his first quartet and the five Movements for his String Quartet, op. 5. But Janá?ek’s quartets are not abstract, theoretical, non-representational speculations in the plasticity of musical textures and forms. Rather, Janá?ek’s music in general tends to be deeply personal, programmatic, and emotionally scorching.

The basest of human emotions—jealousy, rage, and depravity—inform the “Kreutzer Sonata” Quartet, based on Tolstoy’s novella of the same title. It’s the Othello story all over again. The husband suspects, then accuses, and finally murders his wife who he imagines is having an illicit affair. The music reflects the intensifying drama in a way that still has the power to grip us in its vise and shock us.

In a way, the “Intimate Letters” Quartet is the alter ego to its older sibling. The emotion this time is love, not thwarted or lost, but unrequited in that Brahmsian way that longs for that which cannot be. Janá?ek had the misfortune to become enamored of a woman he couldn’t have, Kamila Stösslová. She was 38 years Janá?eks junior at the time and happily married with two children. This did not deter him, however, from writing over 600 letters to her, and his never-to-be-realized fantasy inspired him to compose his “Intimate Letters” Quartet.

The Violin Sonata, begun in 1914, was not completed until 1921. In the interim, Janá?ek made significant alterations to the first movement, completely rewrote the third, and changed the order of the movements. The Allegro for violin and piano (1916) began as a sketch for the last movement of the sonata, but ended up in modified form as the basis for the third movement. This, according to the program note, is its first recording. Unless it’s a different Allegro for violin and piano on this disc, it amazes me how such a claim can be made, when there are at least two other widely available recordings that preceded it: Ulf Wallin with Roland Pöntinen on BIS (1993) and Ildiko Line with Thomas Hlawatsch on Naxos (1995).

The Violin Sonata and the two quartets are well represented on record with nearly three-dozen entries each. Few, however, present both quartets and the sonata on a single disc, one of the more notable ones being a recent release with the Brodsky Quartet on the ensemble’s own label. None of this would matter, of course, if the current performances by the Dante Quartet (Krysia Osostowicz and Giles Francis, violins; Judith Busbridge, viola; and Bernard Gregor-Smith, cello) were not outstanding, which, I promise you, they are. Osostowicz’s name may be familiar to you as a member of the sadly demised Domus ensemble. She didn’t sit shiva for long, though, founding the Dante Quartet in 1995. Longtime piano and chamber-music teacher at Budapest’s Liszt Academy, Ferenc Rados can count András Schiff, Zoltán Kocsis, and Deszö Ranki among his students. His performances here in the two violin and piano works reveal Rados’s responsiveness to Janá?ek’s Czech idiom.

These are very fine readings beautifully recorded in 2006 in the spacious but not over-resonant St. Edward the Confessor’s Church in Nottingham. The Dante Quartet takes an alternate interpretive stance that serves as a foil to the more excitable and neurotic Hagen Quartet on Deutsche Grammophon, which, in any case, seems to have gone bye-bye from the domestic catalogs. This new Meridian release is highly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 1 "Kreutzer Sonata" by Leos Janácek
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dante Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923; Brno, Czech Republic 
Quartet for Strings no 2 "Intimate letters" by Leos Janácek
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dante Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; Brno, Czech Republic 
Sonata for Violin and Piano by Leos Janácek
Performer:  Krysia Osostowicz (Violin), Ferenc Rados (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1921; Brno, Czech Republic 

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