Why are the best string quartets mostly Czech?

From this week’s Lebrecht Album of the Week on scena.org and MusicalToronto:

It must be something in the plum juice that produces, generation after generation, a cluster of distinctive string quartets from the country now constituted as the Czech Republic. There is nothing like a Czech string quartet. It’s a generic school of ensemble playing that aligns all the right accents to a witty, virile expressiveness and an almost effortless panache.

Count the present contenders on the world stage: the Panocha, the Pavel Haas, the Pražák, the Stamic, the Vlach, the Wihan, and the daddy of them all, the Talich. There are presently seven or eight Czech quartets of the highest quality out there. No other nation of ten million can match that.

Read on here.

czech string quartet

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  • Don’t forget the brilliant Zemlinsky Quartet! (Check out their new Weinberg CD on Praga Digitals: the Piano Quintet with the fantastic young Russian pianist Nikita Mndoyants plus Quartet No. 10 and Quartet No. 13.)

  • “…a witty, virile expressiveness…” Virile? Really? Not politically correct now, Norman. But neither are the Czechs. Had a personal conversation with a rising young Czech conductor who deplored the so-called “refugee” fiasco. He is in it for the music so his opinion is not dictated by big money and political elites. Chances are the doors will be barred for him to the upper echelon of the “business” too.

    • Some words can have different meanings based on context and culture, Doug. “Virile” can also mean “​powerful, ​strong, and ​energetic” (without any sexual connotations whatsoever).

      • “Virile” literally means “manly”, from Latin vir = man. If one means “energetic” without any gender connotations, one can just say “energetic”.

        • Indeed but as in many cases literal (or historic) use and definition of words doesn’t necessarily coincide with present day uses and definitions.

  • Funny, but living in Prague, I don’t see many of them plying their trade here. Though I’m admittedly more of an orchestra/opera man.

  • Well, the string playing tradition of highest order and general musicality starting from 18th century… aren´t the etudes by Czech Ševčík still groundwork for violinist worldwide? And then came Czech quartet (featuring also composer Josef Suk, whose grandson would become star violin virtuoso himself), and of course Smetana Quartet, one of the top classical music ensembles ever… and so and so… fortunately our composers also wrote some masterpieces of the repertoire (Smetana, Dvořák and Janáček to name a few)… we Czechs just love the music and sharing it is our greatest pleasure 🙂

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