JANÁČEK: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2; On an Overgrown Path (arr. Burghauser) / Quartetto Energie Nove / Dynamic CDS7708
Sometimes, as a reviewer, you never know where lightning will strike. Just before listening to this recording, I sampled the new release of Bartók’s String Quartets played by the New York-based Chiara String Quartet, who apparently brand themselves as playing “from the heart.” By comparison with the Alexander String Quartet’s stupendous readings, however, they were correct, virtuosic, but not at all from the heart. From the first note of this new recording of Leoš Janáček’s string quartets, however, I was absolutely pinned to the wall. And I stayed there for the whole of this record.
The album cover makes a great to-do about these being the first recordings of the original manuscript edition of Janáček’s quartets. That may be so, but as I’ve said numerous times in various circumstances, it’s not just the message but the messenger that matters. For decades, the old (1955) mono recordings of these two quartets by the Smetana Quartet (Pristine PACM046) were considered the benchmark in this music. No longer. I was startled, upon relistening to the Smetana Quartet’s recordings, at just how stodgy and prosaic they were. And this was considered cutting edge once. Oh, well. “Energie Nove,” or New Energy, certainly does describe this phenomenal Swiss quartet, founded in Lugano in 2008. Every note crackles with energy, and this even goes for the more sedate On an Overgrown Path, here transcribed from the piano score for quartet by Jarmil Burghauser. Violinists Barbara Ciannamea and Hans Liviabella, violist Ivan Vukčevič and cellist Feliz Vogelsang play at the very edge of passion; they remind me of the late, lamented Colorado String Quartet in their commitment and sense of drama.
In addition to their passion, Quartetto Energie Nove utilizes a very bright sonority of a type that has all but disappeared from modern string quartet playing. This is the kind of sound that hearkens back to the Amar, Pro Arte and early Budapest String Quartets of the 1920s, bright and lean with an almost edgy quality tempered by their superb intonation and remarkable blend. This is a group that can play as a section or pit one voice against another at a moment’s notice. I’m sure that some listeners may find their performances a bit too intense for them. That’s their problem. I love this group because they’re intense, and the way they play has an edge to it that greatly satisfies me.
I can’t say enough good things about this release, best of all being the sonics that place the quartet in a good ambience without overdoing the reverb. This disc is a killer!
— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley
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