I thought the Takács Quartet set the bar pretty high with last year’s Hyperion recording of the two Janáček string quartets, but that was before Swiss outfit Quartetto Energie Nove released this gem on the Dynamic label.
Made up of the principal string players of the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, the foursome has a slim discography – just the two Prokofiev quartets – but the sheer quality of their playing and the marvellous production standard of both these albums argue strongly that we should be hearing a lot more of them in the future. Energie Nove – violinists Hans Liviabella and Barbara Ciannamea, violist Ivan Vukčević (an Aussie!) and cellist Felix Vogelsang – bill this release as a world premiere of a “critically edited and ‘Urtext’ version” of the two quartets.
The main changes are in the second, Intimate Letters, written in the last year of the composer’s life and which was being rehearsed for its premiere by the Moravian Quartet just before Janácˇek died. Some changes had been made at these rehearsals attended by the composer, the chief among them being his decision to abandon the use of the viola d’amore in favour of its more conventional four-stringed cousin.
When the work was performed in public there were no definitive approved copies of the score so the editors at Bärenreiter music publishers have gone back to Janácˇek’s autograph sketches. The average listener probably won’t notice much difference but a violist will – the changes pose some extra technical challenges.
That said, this is an exceptional performance of the two works, recorded with great clarity and immediacy. Just listen to the on the bridge passages in the opening of the Kreutzer – it will make you hairs stand up.
The Lugano-based group takes their name from a radical 20th-century Italian magazine and seeks to express “the dynamism and the energy of the new”.
As they did on their Prokofiev recording, which included an arrangement of the composer’s piano pieces Visions Fugitive, they give us a delightful stocking filler for the Janáček album with Jarmil Burghauser’s arrangement of the first book of On An Overgrown Path – ten miniature masterpieces which should take their place alongside Dvořák’s Cypresses as concert hall crowd-pleasers.
This is quite a different approach from the Takács album – and some people may prefer that one for the inclusion of Smetana’s From My Life – but Energie Nove makes a strong claim for your dollar with this reading.