The Leipziger Streichquartett has already demonstrated an ability to move easily between standard repertory works and thornier modern works by Charles Ives, Anton Webern, and Theodor Adorno, but the two quartets of Leos Janácek represented here are perhaps the most difficult challenge it has faced to date. Though technically difficult and taxing to play, the Janácek works separate themselves from the crowd by requiring a supercharged emotional sensibility -- not surprising given that the first is a musical adaptation of Tolstoy's novella of infidelity and murder called The Kreutzer Sonata and the second is a musical depiction of the composer's own apparently chaste but nevertheless deeply passionate love affair.
The Leipzig players respond to Janácek's works with their customary strong attacks, tight ensemble, organic tempos, and muscular rhythms, and on a purely technical level these performances stand with the best. But while their performances are thoroughly considered, they rarely achieve the level of emotional involvement required to bring Janácek's turbulent sentiments to life. There is too much control, not enough ardor in evidence, and the result is too mild to threaten and too restrained to tempt. The coupling of Dvorák's transcription of his song cycle Cypresses demands less from the musicians both technically and temperamentally, and the Leipzig players deliver a winning if slightly cool performance. But the Janácek is a rare interpretive misstep in the group's otherwise splendid discography. Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm's digital sound is characteristically clear, deep, and detailed.