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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Felix Mendelssohn - String Octet; Piano Sextet (Pražák Quartet; Kocian Quartet)


Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
  1. Octet for strings in E flat major, Op. 20: I. Allegro moderato, ma con fuoco
  2. Octet for strings in E flat major, Op. 20: II. Andante
  3. Octet for strings in E flat major, Op. 20: III. Scherzo. Allegro Leggierissimo 
  4. Octet for strings in E flat major, Op. 20: IV. Presto
  5. Sextet for violin, 2 violas, cello, double bass & piano in D major, Op. 110: I. Allegro. Vivace
  6. Sextet for violin, 2 violas, cello, double bass & piano in D major, Op. 110: II. Adagio
  7. Sextet for violin, 2 violas, cello, double bass & piano in D major, Op. 110: III. Minuetto (Agitato)
  8. Sextet for violin, 2 violas, cello, double bass & piano in D major, Op. 110: IV. Allegro vivace

Pražák Quartet
Václav Remeš, violin (1-4)
Vlastimil Holek, violin (1-4)
Josef Klusoň, viola (1-8)
Michal Kaňka, cello (1-4)
Kocian Quartet
Pavel Hůla, violin (1-8)
Miloš Černý, violin (5-8)
Zbyněk Paďourek, viola (1-8)
Václav Bernášek, cello (1-8)
Jiří Hudec, double bass (5-8)
Jaromír Klepáč, piano (5-8)

Date: 2005
Label: Praga




In the late 1960s the combined Smetana and Janácek Quartets recorded for Supraphon a stunning version of the Mendelssohn Octet, one that to this day has remained a reference. Now Praga offers a new performance featuring two of the current generation of Czech quartets, and the results are every bit as fine. Despite the fact that the Octet enjoys plenty of attention on disc, this is a performance of unusual distinction. Right from the opening, with its sharp rhythmic profile and bold dynamic contrasts, it’s evident that the players have taken to heart Mendelssohn’s injunction to play the piece with the drama and weight of an orchestral piece. The music thrillingly surges forward from first bar to last. The slow movement has plenty of warmth, allied to impeccable intonation and a perfectly flowing tempo, while the scherzo is so tautly buoyant that it practically quivers with tension. There isn’t a single moment in the finale, or anywhere for that matter, that fails to convey a feeling of rightness and inevitability.

In short, this performance rises to the very highest standard, and the same holds true for the ebullient Sextet for piano, string quartet, and double bass. Comparisons with Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet are unavoidable, perhaps to the disadvantage of the Mendelssohn, but it dates from 1824, just a year before the Octet, and although Mendelssohn was only 15 years old, he already was a composer of considerable ability. The piece has plenty of good tunes and contains a brief but beautiful adagio slow movement, and the momentum in the large outer movements is effectively sustained. Pianist Jaromír Klepác leads a clearly energized ensemble in a sparkling rendition of this neglected work, and the sonics, whether in stereo or SACD multichannel formats, are perfect. A fabulous disc on all counts. [11/30/2005]

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday

More reviews:


Felix Mendelssohn (3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. He was among the most popular composers of the Romantic era. Like Mozart, he was recognized early as a musical prodigy. Mendelssohn enjoyed early success in Germany, where he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and in his travels throughout Europe. He was particularly well received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist, visited there ten times. His essentially conservative musical tastes, however, set him apart from many of his more adventurous musical contemporaries.


Pražák Quartet is a Czech string quartet established in 1972. It is one of the Czech Republic's premiere chamber ensembles. It was founded while its members were still students at Prague Conservatory (1974-1978). The quartet was awarded First Prize at the Evian International Competition in 1978 and the Prague Spring Festival Prize in 1979. The Prazak Quartet has made more than 60 recordings during its long history, including some of the most important works in the string quartet and chamber music literature. They record for Praga Digitals.


The Kocian Quartet was founded in Prague in 1972. The founding members - Pravoslav Kohout (first violin), Jan Odstrcil (second violin), Jirí Najnar (viola), and Václav Bernásek (cello) - were all Prague Academy of Music graduates. Kocian Quartet has earned the reputation as one of the foremost Czech string quartets of its time. Its repertory is broad, encompassing standards by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, as well as mainstream Czech works by Dvorák, Smetana, Janácek, and Martinu. The Quartet has made numerous recordings for several labels, among them Praga and Orfeo.


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