For me, Leoš Janáček’s string quartets form the absolute opus magnus of the genre. Call me sentimental, but at the very first bars of number two my eyes fill with tears and I am really swept up in all the emotions. Over the years, many excellent versions have appeared on the market, of which the DG recording, by the then still very young Hagen Quartet, is the most precious to me.
It is not the first time that Belcea tried their hand at the string quartets: already in 2001, they recorded them for Zig Zag Territoires (ZZT 010701). I was not exactly over the moon then, somehow I did not feel they got to the core of the music. Still, I cherish the recording: I am a real ‘Belcea fan’.
I find the recording on Alpha Classis refreshing. The tempi are a bit fast, but that does not hurt. The players somewhat control their emotions, so that a lot of underground tension can be felt. Nice.
But what makes the CD a real must is the performance of Ligeti’s first string quartet. The Hungarian master composed it in 1954, two years later he had to flee the country, after which he referred to this composition as a ‘prehistoric Ligeti’.
Prehistoric or not: I think it is genius. It keeps you nailed to your seat and you can’t help but listen: preferably with all doors and windows closed, so you will not be disturbed.
The string quartet, which for a good reason bears the name Métamorphoses nocturnes (yes, call it programmatic), is not performed very often, but of all the performances I have heard so far, the Belceas’ is definitely at the top.