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A live recording from Chamberfest Cleveland to warm you up....

Here's a bunch of Janacek 2 recordings I've been listening to over the past 6 months. There are lots of recordings and a high majority are at least recommendable so I've gone with the very best here (there are other very decent performances that didn't make the cut eg. Wihan, Tokyo, Alkyona, etc) . You may agree or not with my reviews but if you sample some of these I'm sure you'll find your own killer account.

Recommended Enthusiastically

New Helsinki
Smetana (1962)
Talich (Calliope 1985)

Super impressive

Smetana (1976 & 1985)
- the anomaly here is the blistering pace set in both finales (the 1976 one being lightning quick). Some will say its rushed but I still like it a lot. A marmite pair of discs.
Jerusalem - this one grew in my estimation on repeated listens. A highly thought of disc for good reason.
Dante - one of my fave non-Czech recordings. The Dante's nail every movement.
Panocha - a fine all-rounder with lovingly detailed ensemble and gorgeous balance of instruments. Glorious 3rd movement.
Heine - slightly leaner tone but great textures and dynamics. Gets better every time you hear it.
Petersen - clear, well-articulated and volatile. They dive headfirst into the 3rd movement with aplomb.
Leipziger - like Panochas another great all-rounder. More impassioned than many but I wish they'd taken the final movement at a much quicker speed. If so this would have been amongst the finest.
Diotima - this quirky and engaging performance is full of life and creative touches but the Diotimas throw themselves into it with wild abandon and produce a fine reading that some will rate even higher than me.
Mandelring - ignoring the gimmicky 'plus original viola d' amore version' this is a clear, strong and beautifully recorded reading.

The Sublime

- excellent close-up recording in stunning sound. Gritty and hard-edged. The more I hear from this quartet the more impressed I am with them. Super finale.
Martinu - I bought this on a whim for a few pounds and my god what a killer Arco Diva disc this is. Deep, rich sound and ensemble of the highest calibre. They really bring out the Czechness in the final movement.
Talich (Dolce Vita 2004 & Supraphon 1990) - a superb pair of recordings, superior to their earlier Calliope recording. I have a softer spot for the Supraphon recording but there's nothing between them. Straight down the middle playing with a sweetness of tone that would make fluffy kittens cry.
Skampa - there's such great beauty and detail in the Skampa's youthful account. Killer performance with a very Czech character, even if the acoustic is not ideal.
Prazak (Praga & Supraphon) - another fine string quartet ensemble with two exemplary recordings. The later Praga recording takes it for me but this is class playing of repertoire they obviously love and played with a deftness that others can't match.
Janacek Quartet - no surprise to find these guys here in a recording that's been around since 1963 but it's never sounded any better in its current reincarnation. The rustic violin sound and the sheer glorious desolation of the slow 3rd movement (check out the moment around 3:16) should be enough to convince you that this is still a classic, even if it does sound a little wiry in the violins. Listen to those skipping strings in the finale too
Pavel Haas - like the Smetana's later accounts, the Pavel Haas take the final movement at a very brisk clip that some may whince at but it sounds just right in the context of such a fully committed performance. Beauty through delicacy elsewhere.

Top Picks

Energie Nove
- there's no irony in that name. Another top pick from this talented and original quartet. The drive and energy in this performance is ridiculous. Totally blew me away and what a final Allegro! The leaner textures don't mean 'lightweight' they just help with transparency but there's power aplenty on tap. Wonderfully paced last movement but its all thrilling stuff in demonstration sound. Yes!

Takacs - I think I've finally got to admit that the Takacs are geniuses. Nearly everything they touch turns to gold and this incredible disc (the other two quartets are mesmeric too) should be in everyone's collection. I defy anyone to say that this captivating and heartfelt performance is anything but sensational. So good it almost made me cry. The Takacs take you on an emotional journey that feels deeply personal. Wonderful sound as usual, too.

My other reviews:
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