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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Sextet No. 1 in B flat major, Op.18 [38:10]
String Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op.36 [41:42]
Talich Quartet (Jan Talich, Petr Macacek (violin); Vladimir Bukac (viola); Petr Prause (cello))
with Michal Kanka (cello); Josef Kluson (viola)
rec. September 2006 (Op.18); January 2007 (Op.36), Studio Arco Diva, Prague
LA DOLCE VOLTA LDV 253 [79:57]

This year (2014) the Talich Quartet celebrate fifty years since they were formed in 1964 by Jan Talich Snr., a nephew of the famous Vaclav Talich of Czech Philharmonic fame. Today the quartet is led by his son Jan Talich Jnr., who took over the reins in 1997. In celebration of the Talich’s first half-century, the French label La Dolce Volta have reissued ten titles from the quartet’s discography.
 
La Dolce Volta was formed in 2011 and acquired the complete recordings of the Talich Quartet from Calliope. I acquired their reissue of the complete Beethoven Quartets and Mozart Quintets last year, which I enjoy very much. Their latest batch includes the Talich playing, amongst other things, Dvořák, Smetana, Janáček, Shostakovich, Haydn, Kalliwoda (new to me) and Mendelssohn.
 
Listening to this latest disc of the Sextets side by side with others in my collection, it is a strong contender amongst a handful of exceptional recordings in a strongly competitive playing field. I did a head-to-head comparison with two others – the Raphael on Hyperion and the ASMF Chamber Ensemble on Chandos. Despite the plaudits that the Raphael has received over the years, coming back to them after a long absence, their take on these works is not ideal. Taped in an over-resonant acoustic, I found the players recessed and the performance less engaging than that of the Talich. In fact, I found their playing cold. The Talich is recorded in a warm, intimate acoustic and you feel you are in the room listening to them. The ASMF are in considerably brighter and more vivid sound. This enables much of the instrumental detail to become more apparent. Everything about this recording ticks all the right boxes. This would be my desert island choice if I was restricted to one recording. On balance, the Talich falls midway between the two versions.
 
It offers polished performances, setting an ideal pace, with the ensemble playing with a sense of shared purpose. They seem fully inside the music. Dynamics and phrasing are ideal. There’s an unshowy virtuosity, and a youthful freshness in the playing. These are strongly argued performances and ones that I could certainly live with and will return to again and again.
 
The CD is housed in a cardboard gatefold case. I don’t particularly like the way the CD is enclosed in a pocket in the front of the gatefold. Initially I found it difficult to remove the disc and great care has to be taken not to mark the playing surface in retrieval. Such was the difficulty in removing the CD that I inadvertently tore the cardboard. Liner-notes are in French, English, German and Japanese.
 
Stephen Greenbank