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'Intimate Letters' (Janacek & Martinu)

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Audio CD, May 19, 2009
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Editorial Reviews

When the Emerson String Quartet releases an album, one s expectation of excellence isn t met it s exceeded. The Emersons exploration of Czech chamber music on this new recording further burnishes a lustrous reputation. The Emersons perform at a superior level of intensity, integrity, energy, and commitment demonstrated since its formation in 1976. It now brings these qualities to the first two of Janácek s String Quartets and 3 Madrigals for violin and viola by Martinu. Intimate Letters (Quartet no. 2) is based on Janácek s letters to his muse, Kamila Stösslová. We are the fortunate beneficiaries of Janácek s unrequited passion! This passionate piece also plays a key role in the Daniel-Day Lewis film, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

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Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song TitleArtist Time Price
  1. Janácek: String Quartet No.1 - 1. Adagio - Con motoEmerson String Quartet 3:57$0.99  Buy MP3 
  2. Janácek: String Quartet No.1 - 2. Con motoEmerson String Quartet 4:04$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. Janácek: String Quartet No.1 - 3. Con moto - Vivo - AndanteEmerson String Quartet 3:49$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. Janácek: String Quartet No.1 - 4. Con moto (Adagio) - Più mossoEmerson String Quartet 5:02$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. Martinu: Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola Op.H 313 - I. Poco allegroLawrence Dutton 4:11$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. Martinu: Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola Op.H 313 - II. Poco andanteLawrence Dutton 5:31$0.99  Buy MP3 
  7. Martinu: Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola Op.H 313 - III. AllegroLawrence Dutton 5:30$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. Janácek: String Quartet No.2 "Intimate Letters" - 1. AndanteEmerson String Quartet 5:33$0.99  Buy MP3 
  9. Janácek: String Quartet No.2 "Intimate Letters" - 2. AdagioEmerson String Quartet 5:04$0.99  Buy MP3 
10. Janácek: String Quartet No.2 "Intimate Letters" - 3. ModeratoEmerson String Quartet 5:03$0.99  Buy MP3 
11. Janácek: String Quartet No.2 "Intimate Letters" - 4. AllegroEmerson String Quartet 7:26$0.99  Buy MP3 

Product Details

  • Performer: Emerson String Quartet
  • Composer: Leos Janacek, Bohuslav Martinu
  • Audio CD (May 19, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • ASIN: B001Q2RVPS
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #250,460 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer on May 19, 2009
Format: Audio CD
Leos Janacek (1854-1928) wrote two string quartets, both in the last decade of his life, both reportedly energized by his unreciprocated passion for a much younger woman. Oddly I'm reminded of the great 14th C composer Guillaume Machaut, whose final masterpieces of poetry and music were inspired by the passionate flirtations of a younger woman. Thankfully, neither composer had access to Viagra! All their genius flowed into their music.

Even without words, Janacek's two quartets throb with fierce passion and sexual longing. All the critiques and program notes I've ever read about the two quartets, including those with this recording by the Emerson Quartet, elaborate on the composer's personal circumstances and expatiate on the 'programmatic' qualities of the music. Well, dear readers, it is easier and livelier to write about jealousy (the theme of the Tolstoy story for which 'The Kreutzer Sonata' quartet is named) or obsession (Intimate Letters) than about shifting keys, fluctuations of tempo, and elusive thematic development! There IS a narrative quality to the structures of these two quartets, and an ineluctable sense that the composer was striving to express in music the kind of emotional turmoil usually expressed in words. Don't forget that Janacek was above all an opera composer, accustomed to the explicitness of words and drama. These quartets are in fact his 'largest' creations of pure instrumental music. If they seem to "speak" -- and they do -- it's clearly because Janacek heard every note as a word on a stage of sound.

That's the magnificence of this performance by the Emerson Quartet, that they emote the notes like outbursts of language.
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Format: Audio CD
I find myself in an odd position, because as much as I agree with the previous, rapturous review, I came away not as impressed. The Janacek quartets do indeed "speak" as if words are being uttered rather than notes. Janacek's late idiom was passionate, abrupt in its changes of mood and style, and enigmatic. It's full-blown modernism that doesn't, however, stray into the mainstream of Second Viennese atonality.

The Emersons, as expected, preform these two jagged works with edgy excitement, but the result to my ears is too cold and streamlined; Janacek never fully renounced his romantic roots -- certainly not here, in music inspired by feverish, unrequited love -- nor did he forget Czech folk rhythms. When I turn to the live recording by the Alban Berg Quartet, I hear more dancing and romance; each voice has greater personality where the Emersons sound like a machine with interchangeable parts. Also, do I hear some squeaky, out of tune passagework form the first violin? That would be unthinkable with the ordinarily note-perfect Emersons, but dip into the first movement of Quartet #1 and the finale of Quartet #2.

As a filler we get rarely heard duets for violin and viola by Martinu, a composer well remembered in his homeland of Czechoslovakia but not in his country of exile, the U.S., despite a vast output. Violinist Philip Setzer (who alternates first chair in the ensemble) and violist Lawrence Dutton are as perfectly matched in tone as you'd expect. Martinu's idiom includes fast counterpoint and fugal tail-chasing (as the title Three Madrigals implies); the tonality varies from folkloric to vaguely Debussian. The music is accessible, pleasant, and eminently forgettable. The main pleasure comes from hearing such amazing unanimity between two musicians.
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Format: Audio CD
"Intimate Letters", the Emerson String Quartet's 2009 Deutsche Grammophon recording, is a most heartfelt, quite intense, advocacy of these string pieces composed respectively by Janacek and Martinu. Janacek's two string quartets were composed during the final decade o f his life, and definitely great examples of string quartets. Both works apparently draw upon the rich tradition of Bohemian folk music; the third movement of the 2nd String Quartet sounds almost as though it could be a dance, replete with very lively playing from each of the Emerson String Quartet musicians; it is my favorite track on this recording. The second quartet is a most lively, expressive work, replete with sudden shifts in tempo, as well as rich melodies like that in the third movement. In stark contrast, Martinu's work for violin and viola harkens back to Renaissance music in its title, "Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola". This piece Is so rich harmonically, that it does sound like that it is actually a work composed for a string quartet, not merely for violin and viola (which includes violinist Philip Drucker and violist Lawrwence Dutton). Recording-wise, while recorded at Queens College of the City University of New York's LeFrak Concert Hall, the sound quality is akin to the other recordings I have heard from the Emerson String Quartet that were recorded at the American Academy of Arts and Letter's auditorium at Audubon Terrace, Washington Heights, New York, NY.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Regis Rosenberg on September 3, 2013
Format: Audio CD
There were competing forces in my purchasing decision. The Emersons had displeased me in every recording after their Bartok cycle (disclosure: I stopped listening to them a couple of recordings after the Bartok). Also, what serious musicians would refer to a Haydn cycle as "The Haydn Project"? Giordano Bruno was euphoric about this recording. Santa Fe Listener was not happy with it. I incline toward the latter for romantic/modernist recording advice, generally. Also, I realized that while the Emersons' Bartok wasn't Hungarian, it was most interesting and valuable. I thought the same would apply to the Janacek.

So, I got this recording. Now I agree with Santa Fe Listener.

I was in an airplane, listing with my admittedly crappy (expensive, newest version) Bose headphones. After a few minutes, I just kept thinking, "Oh THERE! Another perfectly played tremolo! [Etc.]" I have the Skampa version, and I find it incomparably more moving. When listening to the Skampa, I am persuaded that Janacek sure could write string quartets. I can't say the same when listening to the Emersons.

I'm not arguing that you should run out and buy the Skampa; I just wouldn't buy the Emerson.
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