Despite having completed an impressive 14 string quartets, only a handful of Dvorák's quartets are played with any regularity, and only one -- the so-called American Quartet, Op. 96 -- is instantly recognizable to most listeners. This Nimbus Alliance album combines both ends of this spectrum with the aforementioned "American" Quartet (though this subtitle was not given by Dvorák, nor are there any clearly identifiable references to extant American folk tunes) and the brilliant but overlooked Op. 11 C major Quartet. Many of Dvorák's works flowed quickly from his pen, but the Op. 11 Quartet was completed in a stunning matter of only a few days. Nothing about the challenging and vivacious composition gives any hint that it was written in a rush, and apart from technical obstacles to performers, there's no reason why it should be so woefully neglected. Performing these two great works is the Wihan Quartet, a Czech ensemble specializing in works by fellow Czechs. It should be no surprise, then, that their interpretation and execution of Dvorák should be so precise, so focused, so driven, and so poignant. The fresh, vibrant reading of the American Quartet is remarkably well in-tune, something that frequently plagues performances of this piece. Likewise, the care, attention to detail, rhythmic tenacity, and commitment brought to the C major Quartet instantly elevates it to the same level of interest and prestige as its F major disc-mate. Balance within the quartet is exemplary, and violist Jirí Zigmund's playing is particularly present and robust.
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AllMusic Review by Mike D. Brownell
|String Quartet No. 11 in C, Op. 61, B. 121|
|String Quartet No. 12 in F, Op. 96, B. 179 'American'|