Vogler Quartet

Dvorák: String Quartets, Vol. 1

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This is the first in a series of Antonín Dvorák's string quartets from the formerly East German Vogler Quartet, a group that has maintained its original membership since the mid-'80s and has made some fine recordings for the Profil label. Moving over to the acoustically somewhat less accomplished CPO, it performs a valuable service by delving into the lesser-known chamber music of Dvorák, a composer with a large worthwhile output that is mostly disregarded in favor of a few favorites. Not that the quartet couldn't have succeeded by sticking to those favorites; the String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 ("American"), in the Vogler's hands can stand with any other version on the market. The Vogler favors rather sober, involved readings in a long Central European tradition, but here it loosens up with the tempo for a very stirring finale. The group emphasizes the degree to which pentatonic scales permeate the thematic material of the quartet. Less often heard are the Zypressen (Cypresses), B. 152, which exist both as songs and string quartet movements; the string quartet version here dates from 1887, and they are so evocative that they might as well have the song texts. These are underappreciated works -- unusually complex as songs -- in which Dvorák worked out some of the larger issues of his unerringly crowd-pleasing late style, and the Vogler delivers very tuneful, appealing performances. The two earlier quartets on disc two, both from the late 1870s, represent the poles of Dvorák's style during the period; the former is strongly Slavic in style, the latter a very careful essay in the style of Brahms whose contrapuntal density plays right up the middle of the Vogler Quartet's strengths. The sound, from Berlin's Siemensvilla studio, is actually perfectly clear, and this is a very strong double album that will give those of Dvorák plenty of pleasurable listening.

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