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Janacek: Complete String Quartets - Mandelring Quartett

Janacek: Complete String Quartets - Mandelring Quartett

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Classical - Chamber


Leos Janacek: String Quartet No. 1 "The Kreutzer Sonata", String Quartet No. 2 "Intimate Letters" (viola d‘amore version), String Quartet No. 2 "Intimate Letters" (viola version)

Mandelring Quartett
Gunter Teuffel (viola d'amore)


Both string quartets from the late period of the Moravian composer Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) form – alongside works by Schoenberg, Berg and Zemlinsky – pinnacles of modern chamber music between the world wars. Janáček composed the quartets in 1923 and 1928 respectively and gave them revealing sobriquets. The title “Kreutzer Sonata” for the first quartet refers to a novella by Leo Tolstoy in which the emotional power of music is held responsible for a matrimonial drama. If this quartet is secretly addressed to Kamila Stösslová, the object of Janáček’s adoration in his later life, then the sobriquet of the second quartet (“Intimate Letters”) refers rather openly to the same addressee. The composer reinforced this amorous subtext by using an instrument which has love in its name.

“The whole thing will be held together by a special instrument”, Janáček wrote, “it is called viola d’amour – viola of love.” After a long period of dormancy, the baroque viola d’amore was revived at the beginning of the twentieth century, and Janáček was fascinated by the silvery sound of the richly decorated instrument in the viola register. Unfortunately, for practical reasons he had to dispense with the viola d’amore and adapt the work for an ordinary viola. For this recording, Gunter Teuffel (viola d’amore) and the Mandelring Quartet have reconstructed the original setting, offering Janáček’s second string quartet in both versions, for viola as well as viola d’amore.

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Review by John Broggio - February 8, 2011

Yet another magnificent disc from this wonderful ensemble.

After a Shostakovich cycle, 3 discs of Schubert, the Schumann piano quartet & quintet, this repertoire marks very different territory for the Mandelring Quartet. This Janacek is arguably that of his most personal music and is heartfelt with emotional intensity dripping from every note in a way that had not been heard since the late Beethoven quartets. Whilst a disc of these two works would be short measure on their own, the "filler" is actually none other than the 'original' (pre-rehearsal) version of the second quartet in which a viola d'amore replaces the viola - apparently the first viola player wasn't up to the task, so it had to be re-written. Gunter Teuffel, together with the former violist of the Smetana Quartet, has painstakingly and lovingly worked backwards to re-establish the work as near to the original as can be conceived today - he also performs the part for us on this disc.

Opening with the "Kreutzer Sonata", the playing is simply so good that it defies description - certainly one coming to the quartet new wouldn't be at all surprised for it to have been subtitled "concerto for quartet without orchestra" (or similar)! From the intensely reflective slower moments to the exhilarating quicksilver flashes of brilliance, the Mandelring Quartet once again prove masters of their art. Performing the conventionally heard viola version of the second quartet "Intimate letters" first, the tone and performing style shares much of that with the "Kreutzer Sonata".

The viola d'amore version immediately sounds different (not radically) but the extra harmonic resonances - sample the ringing occurring at the end of the first movement - that this instrument gives out brings a softness to Teuffel's sound that the remaining members of the Mandelring Quartet rightly respond to in sensitive fashion. There is very little difference in terms of the tempo choices, or indeed the phrasing and overall style. Just that there is a rounder sound (even when playing sul ponticello; on the bridge) which adds the slightest hint of sepia to the tone, with a warmer relationship to the ear. As in the first quartet, the levels of ecstasy or hysteria of Janacek's score is delivered with quite frightening intensity by the Mandelring's (and Teuffel).

Fortunately, the sound matches the accomplishment of the playing and is quite wonderfully lifelike.

With excellent notes, this has to be one of the best quartet releases of recent years - very highly and enthusiastically recommended.

Copyright © 2011 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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