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Janácek’s extraordinary pair of string quartets, written towards the end of his life, are overflowing with drama and passion, reflecting his own emotions at the time. The first string quartet, inspired by Tolstoy’s bitter tragedy The Kreutzer Sonata, echoes the pain of the composer’s loveless marriage. The intense lyricism recalls Beethoven, but the brittle ferocity of the music, matching the violence of the story, and the interruptions of trembling violins, gives it an inspired originality.
The 1928 string quartet No.2 ‘Intimate Letters’ reflects his unrequited yearning for the love of his life, Kamila Stösslová. Such is the force of his emotions that they burn through in aching harmonies and coarse, spectral sounds, made by players bowing on the bridge.
Hugo Wolf is known mainly for his Lieder and the G major Italian Serenade offers a rare glimpse into another form of composition. It evokes a poem by Eichendorff, Der Soldat, the quick-fire dialogue between the instruments echoing a young soldier’s gallop to his maiden’s castle. Like Janácek, Wolf’s music has an unpredictable nerovus intensity. First impressions of the Italian Serenade are of an amiable and humourous piece, but an anxious cello solo in the middle gives the piece an unsettling feel.
The Hagen Quartet, celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year, is one of the most highly respected string quartets in the world. They are noted for the precision and dynamism of their ensemble playing, and the colour and nuance they bring to performance. Their searing readings of these works were recorded in 1988.
String Quartet No. 1 'The Kreutzer Sonata'
String Quartet No. 2 'Intimate Letters'
Italian Serenade in G major