Bedrich Smetana did not turn to the string quartet until very late in his life, and only at a time of great personal crisis. Among many stressors in his life, Smetana began an insidious march toward deafness in 1874; along with his other health problems, his deafness put the composer into a spiral of anxiety and depression. Despite the adversities, he was able to complete many of his most celebrated respected works. The two string quartets are both autobiographical, with clear notes from Smetana outlining the underlying "meaning" of each movement. Of the two, the first (subtitled "From My Life") is by far the most frequently performed. The second, while every bit as well-written and just as movingly tragic, is more nebulous in form and structure and has often been neglected since its composition. Performing these two emotional works is the Bennewitz Quartet, a young ensemble founded at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts in 1998. Their youth belies an exceptionally clear connection with the turmoil and angst in Smetana's scores and is ideally suited for the occasional lighthearted, jovial moments. Their technical skills are exemplary: pristine intonation, masterful control over dynamics, and homogenous articulation. Their clear musical vision easily guides listeners through the sometimes treacherous Second Quartet. Bennewitz has a very lean, bright sound that may leave some listeners wanting a bit more from the bass end of the ensemble and a little toning down from the piercing first violin.
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AllMusic Review by Mike D. Brownell
|String Quartet No. 1 in E minor "From my Life"|
|String Quartet No. 2 in D minor|