There are now three sets of Dvorák's music for string quartet: this one, the Panocha Quartet on Supraphon, and the vintage Prague Quartet on DG. All of them are very good, and each has its distinctive qualities. Purely in terms of ensemble playing, the Panocha's are impossible to beat, and their cycle is available on individual CDs, though at full price. The Stamitz Quartet recorded a great deal of the Czech quartet repertoire for the German label Bayer, from whom this set was licensed, and its approach is quite different from either the Panocha or Prague ensembles: more relaxed, less rhythmically charged, and gracious in an old-world sort of way.
You can hear this quite clearly in the opening movement of theRead more American Quartet (No. 12), slower and less incisive than usual but still retaining its own mellow charm. If I prefer the higher voltage of the Panocha and Prague quartets, I still can respect this approach as perfectly valid in its own right. The Stamitz style works especially well in the neglected 11th Quartet, which lacks any specific nationalist orientation to begin with and here acquires what I can only call "Brahmsian" warmth, though it never really sounds like Brahms at all.
The group also gives unusual stature to the somewhat formally scattered early works, particularly the monstrous Third Quartet, which at 72 minutes has to be just about the all-time longest string quartet that ostensibly observes the rules of classical form. In addition to the quartets themselves, this set includes the Cypresses, haunting transcriptions of Dvorák's early love songs, as well as the delicious Two Waltzes and a lovely performance of the Terzet for two violins and viola. The sonics match the warmth and richness of the playing. It may not be my favorite set overall, but it has been very rewarding getting to know it again, and at this price you can't go wrong.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less