DVORAK: String Quartets = String Quartet No. 12 in F Major Op. 96 “American”; String Quartet No. 14 in A flat Major Op. 105; Tercet in C Major Op. 74 – Zemlinsky Quartet – Praga Digitals multichannel SACD Pro/DSD 250 300, 75:41 (11/12/14) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

This is an excellent recording of Dvorak compositions for strings, part of an ongoing series of recordings of the quartets. This is volume six of the series.

The String Quartet No. 12 is one of Dvoark’s most popular works, and in fact is a very well known and oft-performed work in the repertoire. Subtitled his ‘American’, the work was written in America in 1893, while Dvorak was on vacation is his beloved Spillville, Iowa. This work was composed just after his New World Symphony. The Quartet is lovely to listen to, and the American influences are there, but don’t jump out at you. Dvorak believed this work would never have been written if not for his stay in America.

The Quartet No. 14 was Dvorak’s last, written after he returned to Bohemia from America. The Quartet premiered in 1896. Finally, we have the Tercet (or Terzetto) in C Major, composed in 1887. It’s played with two violins and viola. A complex work, it is rich in tonality with hints of the folk music which the composer loved. The Zemlinsky Quartet gives a fine account of this music, in an energetic and precise performance.

The recording is excellent, with a very realistic spread of the instruments across the front channels. The 5.0 disc provides subtle ambiance in the rears. Listening to the SACD vs. the CD layer, I thought the high resolution tracks sounded slightly better, especially in the upper registers of the strings. Dynamics are excellent, and I felt this was a realistic recording of the work, that very much mirrored the sound of a live performance. The disc was recorded, along with the rest of the series, in Prague.

This is a lovely performance and recording. Recommended!

—Mel Martin