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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tokyo String Quartet, Dvorak, String Quartet No. 12; Smetana, String Quartet No. 1

Bedrich Smetana (1824-1994) and Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) were instrumental in putting the area now known as the Czech Republic on the map musically. They both combined the prevailing romantic ethos of the time with their own musical personalities and the feel of local folk musics they experienced in their lives. Of all the so-called nationalist composers, they were among the most brilliantly successful in matching real musical inspiration with an internalized musical culture absorbed from the air around them.

Paradoxically, Dvorak is most remembered for two works inspired by his visit to the United States, his Symphony "From the New World" and his String Quartet No. 12, "The American." The latter has gotten a fresh new reading by the Tokyo String Quartet, along with Smetana's seminal First String Quartet, "From My Life" (Harmonia Mundi HMU807429).

Both works have had deserved popularity for their singingly memorable, expressively lyrical, yet robust thematic material, the clarity of structure and exemplary status as among the best in later romantic string quartet craft.

The Tokyo String Quartet give a fittingly impassioned reading of the works--flowing, emotive without erring on the overdone side, beautifully phrased and balanced. These are some of the finest performances I've heard of the two masterpieces. They are very much recommended.

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