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Belcea Quartet - Janáček and Ligeti Quartets - Financial Times

Email may have a lot to answer for. So long as composers were writing letters, they left a first-hand account of the relationships that were important to them, even those with people they hardly met. Think of Tchaikovsky and his patron, Nadezhda von Meck. In no case was this more vital than for Janáček. In his sixties, the Czech composer started an intensely emotional correspondence with the young Kamila Stosslova. The hundreds of letters they exchanged were the inspiration for many of the great works of his last years. These include most notably his two string quartets. The first, “Kreutzer Sonata”, is based on a novella by Tolstoy, but the adulterous love it describes surely has its emotional roots in Janáček’s own experience. The second, “Intimate Letters”, is openly biographical, drawing on his correspondence with Kamila. The quartets contain some of Janáček’s most intimate music. The Belcea Quartet has trodden this ground before, having made an earlier recording of the works, but this new recording refines the intense response they were exploring before. In these performances, Milan Kundera’s description of Janáček — “for him everything was expression” — has never seemed more true, as the Belcea musicians use every short motif or idea to delve deeper into the emotions. There is beauty here but also pain, radiance as well as harshness, and all kept in a perfect narrative balance. To fill the disc, Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, “Métamorphoses Nocturnes”, makes an imaginative counterweight. A descendant of Bartok’s six great quartets, it takes their novelties of timbre and haunting nocturnal shadows to the next stage of invention, a technical challenge brilliantly carried off here.

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Financial Times
17 May 2019