Playing like this disarms criticism. These performances are as fine as any, making comparison basically pointless. The "American" has that artless freshness and simple joy in vivid color that Dvorák's folk-like melodies demand. The players take the first-movement exposition repeat (what sane person wouldn't want to hear it twice?), offer vivaciously sprung rhythms in the scherzo and finale, and deliver a slow movement that's soulful but never tacky. This is without question a performance in the great Czech tradition, in which immaculate ensemble and beautifully smooth sonority never overwhelm the music's purposeful forward thrust.
The Thirteenth Quartet is simply oneRead more of the very greatest works in the genre, arguably the finest after Beethoven (and that's not forgetting Brahms). At 36 minutes, it operates on a symphonic scale, but its depth and intimacy belong uniquely to the quartet medium. The performance, once again, is magnificent, particularly in the Adagio non troppo, where the players find a perfect tempo and phrase the music with exceptional sensitivity. If the coupling looks appealing, then snap this release up without delay.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Performance: ***** 5 stars (out of 5); Sound: ***** 5 stars (out of 5)
Hardly two and a half years separate the composition of these two quartets, and yet they seem to occupy very different creative worlds. Written at the start of a much-needed summer holiday in 1893, after Dvorak's exhausting first year of teaching in New York, the American Quartet is open-hearted, winningly lyrical and fundamentally simple in outline: its spontaneity had much to do with the fact that it was sketched in the record time of three days.
The G Major Quartet was the first composition completed after vork's return to Bohemia in 1895. While it yields little to the American interms of lyricism, it is a more complex and far more richly-textured work. The first movement had a huge emotional range in the wonderful Adagio slow movement which looks both backward to his American period and forward to the late operas such as Rusalka, Dvorak plumbed depths he never attempted in any other of his quartets.
The Haas Quartet delivers superb performances of both works. They go straight to the heart of Op. 106's Adagio with an excellent feeling not just for its dynamics, but also for the intensity of its introspective moments. Throughout, their understanding of the musical argument is exemplary: the first movement is very volatile, but at every stage the performers respond with both passion and a clear feeling for musical line: there is a marvelous spontaneity to the way in which the cello drives the opening part of the first movement promoting a real sense of dialogue from the other members of the quartet. In truth, there are so many details that delight the ear it would be almost impossible to list them all, but a prime example is the meltingly beautiful beginning of the recapitulation. Their performance of the scherzo (molto vivace) blends Beethovenian determination in the outer parts with a magically delicate reading of the trio. If anything they are even better in the finale, negotiating its uproarious good cheer and the dreamy reminiscences of earlier movements with consumate skill: in a movement that can seem discursive, they find both an emotional and rational thread to the argument.
The Pavel Haas Quartet's reading of the American is also very attractive, with a premium on expressive detail and, in the slow movement, remarkable sweetness of tone in all registers, captured superbly by the warm recorded sound. There is nothing bland about the way in which they address the sheer joy in life that Dvorak clearly felt when writing the work, nor the emotional ups and downs he experienced in the New World. In a field occupied by many superb performances — those of the Prazak Quartet (on Praga) and the Lindsays (on ASV) spring to mind in both works — this issue certainly stands high.