The music is tuneful, rhythmically charged, soulful, texturally fascinating, and easy on the ear, but never trivial. Do you think Tchaikovsky was the first guy to try an all-pizzicato scherzo? Check out String Quartet No. 1’s third movement. The spirit of Czech folk music hovers over the trio, with its drone bass effects, as it also does in the delicious finale of the Third Quartet, which features an imaginative use of harmonics. And all of this in 1834! We are so far away from the soggy Germanic solemnity of, say, Schumann or Brahms, neither of whom is at his best in the string quartet medium.
By contrast, Kalliwoda wears his learning lightly. Several movements feature extensive fugal writing, but it’s never dry or labored and it always serves to create textural contrast. The tunes of the slow movements are also really beautiful (check out Quartet No. 2), often hovering between major and minor in vintage Schubert/Slavic fashion.
In short, these are immensely enjoyable works, and the Talich Quartet plays them with obvious relish. Given the unfamiliarity of the music, and the hope that other quartets will take these pieces into their active repertoires without delay, it’s a bit of a risk to give this release a highest rating; these quartets have more to offer than any single performance, however lovely and well recorded, can reveal. But such is the interest of the repertoire that I can’t recommend this release highly enough, and if something just as fine (or even better) comes along, then lucky us!
String Quartet no.1 in E minor, op.61 (1835)
- Allegro moderato 9’19
- Allegro. Scherzo 7’55
- Adagio 3’22
- Vivace 5’20
String Quartet no.2 in A major, op.62 (1836)
- Allegro vivace 9’21
- Scherzo. Presto 2’54
- Adagio 4’03
- Vivace 3’39
String Quartet no.3 in G major, op.90 (1838)
- Moderato 10’53
- Scherzo. Vivace 5’55
- Adagio 5’53
- Alegretto grazioso 7’31
The Talich Quartet, a Bohemian soul
‘The Conservatory of Europe’ – that used to be the nickname of Bohemia. At the heart of central Europe, a people dedicated itself wholly to the art of melody. In the nineteenth century, when Czech musicians were recognised as great composers as well as performers, they gave birth to a repertory steeped in traditions, its inspiration passed on from generation to generation.
Václav Talich, a conductor of genius, was one of the most prominent central European artists in the following century. In 1964, Talich’s nephew Jan founded the string quartet that bears his name. In 1975 it became a chamber ensemble of the Czech Philharmonic, a distinction that quickly gained it international recognition. France became its second home, and thanks to the Calliope label it made some of the great benchmark recordings in the quartet discography, from Mozart to Janáček. La Dolce Volta has since taken up the torch and pursues an adventure too exciting to be interrupted.
For half a century now, even though the bows have changed hands, the quartet’s personality has displayed marked stylistic continuity: spontaneous expressiveness, delicious unpredictability of attack, telling accentuation of folk rhythms, absolute precision and, equally, a sensation of miraculous fragility. Throughout the years, the Talich Quartet has remained the ambassador of a prodigious musical history, nourished by the memory of the torrents and castles of Bohemia, of tales and legends, and of the passions of the Czech people even before it was established as a nation in the aftermath of the First World War. The quartet’s multi-award-winning recordings mirror their interpretation of Janáček’s Second Quartet, ‘Intimate Letters’: the most enchanting of conversations in music.