Dvorak’s 1895 G Major Quartet remains among the more infrequent of this composer’s significant chamber music oeuvre to receive performances in the concert hall or on disc. I do recall a strong LP of the Vlach Quartet in this alternately passionate and melancholy work, whose ventures into modal and atonal harmony won the admiration of Arnold Schoenberg. The Artemis Quartet (1-5 February 2003) brings a sizzling flair to this lyrically rustic piece, whose harmonies reach, in the Adagio ma non troppo, into the tragic depths, even as they hint of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. Intimations of mortality pervade the entire quartet, which smiles through its tears. Violinist Natalia Prischepenko elicits a rasping, lofty edginess to her part, a nervous strain that waxes delicately poised, always ready to disturb as well to charm. The Scherzo (Molto vivace) exhibits Bohemian and Schubertian strength. The wicked syncopations prove as unnerving as they are exhilarating, Dvorak pretending to be Mahler. The Finale: Andante sostenuto lavishes on us a symphonic sonority, Eckert Runge’s cello ringing out his pungent pizzicati with elastic fervor. Cyclic elements emerge, as the opening impulse and lyric theme of the first movement appear in haunted, tremolando reminiscence. Flying sparks from asbestos-coated instruments for a fiery coda.
Janacek’s 1928 Second Quartet has a passionate history–his December love for a youthful Kamila Stoesslova–parallel to the romances that attach to Dvorak’s Cello Concerto and to Berg’s Lyric Suite. The droning harmonies and spasmodic, melodic outbursts vie for dominance in this often convulsive work. Artemis (20-22 June 2004) virtually plays the resin off their respective strings, so fervent is their reading. Volker Jacobsen’s viola carries much of the burden of passion. Much of the music proceeds in periods of emotional groupings, similar to the music of Bruckner. But the syntax is Moravian, filtered by allusions to Debussy and Dvorak. The emotional vehemence rivals Bartok for sheer lurid, bipolar intensity. The last movement, a lusty and voluptuously hymnal outpouring, shimmers and shrieks its waltzes and shattering, percussive dissonances. The music plays a carnal, deathbed confession worthy of Swinburne. Recommended.
— Gary Lemco