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Music Review

Dvorak, Janacek's Final Work Anchor Prazak Quartet Concert

November 18, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD

As might be expected, the well-heeled and fittingly rough-edged Prazak Quartet, formed out of the Prague Conservatory in 1972, served up plenty of Dvorak on its all-Czech concert Sunday at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall. We heard two works written in the composer's native land, from before and after his New York sojourn in the 1890s: "Romantic Pieces," for an airy texture of cello-less trio, and the later String Quartet in G, Opus 106 with a captivating rawness, with no excess polish to keep the late Romantic urgency of the music at arm's reach.

But if Dvorak dominated the afternoon's program in terms of time, Leos Janacek's String Quartet No. 2 ("Intimate Letters") was the program's centerpiece, literally and dramatically. The backstory of the composer's final work, dedicated to his secret love, Kamila Stosslova, adds to its furtive charms, but the mercurial quality of the music speaks powerfully for itself, especially when played with the kind of intensity and focus that the Prazak provided.

Here, the quartet's sometimes rough but always empathetic collective sound reached a poetic pitch. Exaggerated dynamic shifts, now hushed and tender, now heavy and raging, were handled with intuitive ease. As the score demands, conflicting emotions were drawn in powerful musical terms. It was the kind of performance that grabbed you by the collar and refused to behave.

For extra-Czech measure, the quartet sprinted nimbly through the Presto from Haydn's quartet, Opus 76, as an encore.

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