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Fanfare, July 2005

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The Strad, April 2005

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Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, January 2005

"Founded in 1982, the Vlach Quartety Prague is successor to the famous Vlach Quartet (led by Josef Vlach, the present first violin’s father). The quartet won the International String Quartet Competition in 1985 (Portsmouth) and went on to win the prize of the Czech Society for Chamber Music in 1991. All four members of the Quartet are members of the Czech Chamber Orchestra.

Great credentials then, and they do not fail to deliver. The first in the programme is, indeed, Dvorák’s first essay in this hallowed medium, written in 1862 but unperformed until 1888, whence the present revised version hails, and unpublished until 1948. But do not let the early date put you off - actually it is a work of confidence, with the composer’s individual voice all but intact. The Vlach Quartet responds to Dvorák’s language with gusto and an innate sense of style so that there is hardly a doubt about the worth of this music. Technically, as their competition victories would imply, they are excellent, in particular Vlachová’s deliver of some tricky violin lines. But they are just as fine in the pastoral-Czech slow movement (‘Andante affetuoso ed appassionato’) or the gently-shifting Scherzo; note the nice, grainy sound to the lower part of Vlachová’s register.

Of the four movements, the finale meanders most, but the Vlach Quartet does actually give it all its got.

The Sixth Quartet is heard here in the composer’s revision, completed by Jaromil Burgmeister; not all of the revised version survives. It is a delightful work, though, opening with a lovely mezza-voce from all concerned. This work offers a more varied landscape than Op. 2, with exemplary instrumental interplay in the second movement (Poco allegro) and a truly heart-warming slow movement (‘Poco adagio’).

The finale is more exploratory in nature than the rest of the music on this disc, much more laid back in character, too, than its marking of ‘Allegro molto’ implies. If the Vlach Quartet had been more aware of the possible cumulative effect of Dvorák’s rhythmic repetitions, this would have been an even more satisfying performance. As it stands, it is nevertheless a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The recording is not over-warm but detail is exemplary.


Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, December 2004

"The Vlach Quartet has now reached volume seven in its cycle of the complete Dvorák quartets and gone, thankfully, are the days when the only cycle you could buy was that by the Prague Quartet – good though that box was, and remains. The Vlach’s playing is characterised by warm and genial musicianship. The primarius is Jana Vlachová, daughter of the more famous Vlach, and it must be her anticipatory sniffs that one can hear from time to time, ones that are quite unproblematic to me and which are really only audible on headphones. Her dramatic and dominant first violin line is matched by the warmth of Petr Verner’s viola as those telling inner voices are explored and resolved in the first movement, say, of the early A major. This is no masterpiece but there are buccaneering moments for all four players with Mikael Ericsson’s cello beavering away in the depths. The Vlach do well by this opening movement – bringing out its ebullience whilst minimising to a great degree its structural failings. The strong slow movement is densely argued and vibrated and the Allegro gallops, embracing a delightful pizzicato-laced trio section strong on folk-festive spirit. Furthermore the tender reflection and reminiscence of the finale is notable for the only time on this disc that Vlachová dares some portamenti, to sweeten and refine still further the sensibility evoked.

The companion work, the Op.12, is one that’s been completed by Jarmil Burghauser who based his version on Dvorák’s revision. This was a work the composer began shortly after his marriage but laid aside. Some of the first movement is intact in the autograph (exposition and most of the development), most of the second movement, the third movement and portions of the finale. There is plenty of characteristic folk-drive in the opening Allegro though it strikes me that original would have been more extended than this reconstruction and that much of the inspiration is Schubertian in origin. The slow movement is affectionate and warmly played, the scherzo lilting and the finale is a conflation of the composer’s first and revised versions.

If you’ve followed the series so far you won’t be deterred by the reconstructed A minor – indeed you may positively welcome it as useful surgery (you certainly couldn’t hope for a better surgeon than Burghauser who was a great champion of Czech music in general and this composer in particular). The sound is, as I suggested, just a touch close but it does justice to such as those winsome exchanges between Vlachová and second violinist Karel Stadherr in the opening of the Op.2. Pleasurable and nourishing listening."

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