Zoltán Kodály’s reputation as a composer has usually taken a back seat to his ethnomusicology and pedagogical innovations, so although his music may lack the searching modernist abstraction of his colleague Bartók, it compensates with an authentic piquant flavour.
These quartets are early works but Kodály’s character already comes through even in the first quartet where his Parisian training is obvious in the harmonic language – the melodic shapes and rhythms clearly hail from the Hungarian plain. It’s a lengthy work with weighty aspirations that doesn’t always convince but its Presto is a fun turn. The second quartet is a concise, pithy work with a more intense demeanour. Each of its three movements has a distinct flavour profile and pays off with an exciting finale full of stamping folk rhythms alternating with mysterious “night music” episodes; this is a work that should be programmed more often.
Sandwiched between are two miniatures; an attractive Intermezzo for string trio and a quirky little Gavotte from 1952. The Dante Quartet play with warm devotion and a vehement intensity bolstered by technical security. Forget about national stereotypes; their bold attack and wide tonal palette allow them to sound “to the manner born” and there is no want of paprika in these performances. With a vividly realistic sound, as to be expected from this label, this is well worth investigating.