The seven discs comprising this budget boxed set constitute the complete DG, Decca, and Westminster recordings by the Janácek Quartet, all dating from the 1950s and '60s when the celebrated ensemble was at the peak of its formidable powers. The problem with such a collection is simply to know where to begin. You might start with Haydn's "Joke", "Bird", and "Fifths" quartets, where the foursome is attuned to the music's wit and grace at every turn. For sheer speed, control, and split-second timing, the Janáceks have few peers in the opening movement of Beethoven's E minor "Razumovsky" quartet, and the four Dvorák quartets couldn't be more stylish and singing, together with theRead more ensemble's svelte textures and unforced clarity of the inner parts.
The players negotiate the restless tempo shifts in Janácek's second quartet ("Intimate Letters") without a hitch, and pair up with the Smetana Quartet for a genial and relaxed romp through Mendelssohn's Octet. Well played as they are, the Brahms and Dvorák Piano Quintets with pianist Eva Bernáthova seem comparatively small-scaled and cool next to the heated intensity Rudolf Serkin and the Budapest Quartet generate (in the Brahms), or the warmth and flexibility of the Rubinstein/Guarneri Quartet partnership (both works).
Tully Potter's annotations strike an ideal balance between the music, the musicians, and discographical matter, conveying plenty of information in as many words as necessary. Although this reissue is aimed at collectors and connoisseurs, you don't have to be either to appreciate the Janácek Quartet's exceptional music making. Highly recommended.