Stamic Quartet

Karel Kovarovic: The Complete String Quartets

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Karel Kovarovic is remembered, if at all, as the conductor of the Czech National Theater during and after Dvorák's time. He also wrote operas, ballets, and, unsuspected until now, three string quartets, the last of which was left unfinished. On the evidence here, this was nothing short of a tragedy. These works, all composed in the late 1880s, were left unpublished in Kovarovic's own time, to say nothing of ours, but the Stamic Quartet, which has performed other revivals of neglected Central European repertory, scores here with these three works. Supraphon's background information stresses Kovarovic's links to Dvorák and leads with the String Quartet No. 2, where Dvorák's influence is most prevalent. It's doubtless a competent homage, warm in tone, but more remarkable still are the other two works. Sample the rhythmically tense opening movement of the String Quartet No. 1, which sets up instabilities that are resolved only at the end of the work. It's true that Dvorák's later quartets have this capacity, but these were written before Dvorák's works, and Kovarovic's handling of his ideas is unique. The String Quartet No. 3 is no less compelling despite its missing finale, and it would not be a surprise to see these works enter the standard repertory. The album is marred only by chilly church sound from Supraphon that amplifies minor intonational flaws in the quartet's playing. Highly recommended, nonetheless. Be the first one on your block to hear these remarkable pieces.

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