Panocha Quartet

Ravel, Suk: String Quartets

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Because Maurice Ravel's String Quartet in F major is almost always paired on CDs with Claude Debussy's String Quartet in G minor, it's nice for a change to find a different coupling on this 2007 Supraphon release. Josef Suk's String Quartet No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 11, is not as famous as Ravel's masterpiece, and as a youthful first effort it is not as assured, though its lyrical moods and charming fin de siècle flavor are a pleasant complement, and the album as a whole works with this intriguing combination. Suk composed his first quartet in 1896, though he completely rewrote the Finale in 1915; both versions are played in this vigorous performance, so listeners can choose the closing movement they prefer. Also included is Suk's Meditation on an Old Czech Hymn, "St. Wenceslas," Op. 35, a somber contrapuntal arrangement of the tune that provides contrast to the livelier string quartets on either side of it. Yet while the Panocha Quartet is fully engaged in Suk's works -- as Czech musicians, they are expected to have a special affinity for their countryman's music -- listeners will likely find that their performance of Ravel's String Quartet is the main draw here; the group brings it across with delicacy and panache, as well as with a greater unity in interpretation, which is harder to discern in the previous works with their high variability. Supraphon's sound is warm and close-up, so the musicians have a natural presence with not too much resonance.

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