Zemlinsky Quartet

Dvorák: Early Works for String Quartet

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When Antonin Dvorák learned to compose, he did it the old-fashioned way -- by composing. Although he had written numerous shorter works earlier, the 20-year-old Bohemian bestowed his Opus 1 on a three-movement String Quintet in A minor for pairs of violins and violas plus cello in 1861. The next year, he turned out his Opus 2, a four-movement String Quartet in A major, and over the next 12 years, he wrote six more string quartets. Through them, the listener can follow Dvorák's progress from a talented amateur with an inexhaustible gift for melody and little feel for form to an almost-ready-for-the-big-time composer who'd learned to tighten his structures and control his gift for melody. With this four-disc set by the Czech Zemlinsky Quartet (augmented by violist Josef Kluson in the quintet), following Dvorák's development has never been easier. With its warm tone, graceful ensemble, and innate sense of rhythm, the Zemlinsky contains Dvorák's sometimes sprawling forms, restrains his sometimes interminable modulations, and always lets the melodies sing. While these quartets are by no means in the same class as the composer's later works in the same form, listeners who want to find out how Dvorák became Dvorák may want to seek them out. Praga's 2006 digital sound is a bit reserved, but clean and detailed.

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