Dvořák wrote his E flat major String Quintet just after he had completed the more celebrated American Quartet in the summer of 1893, while enjoying an extended break from his duties in New York in the small town of Spillville, a Czech-speaking community in Iowa. The Quintet has many of the Quartet’s most appealing qualities: open-hearted pentatonic melody, infectious rhythmic impetus and clarity of form. The Takács Quartet’s interpretation in the first movement is at times a little soulful, a not inappropriate approach since Dvořák’s muse in America was often inclined toward melancholy. Their attention to detail produces constantly arresting textures and the recorded balance allows the all-important viola lines full prominence, although at times I could have done with slightly more of the first violin. They provide full-throated tone in a moving account of the Larghetto and both scherzo and finale are captivating in this splendid and above all superbly considered performance.
Their performance of Dvořák’s last string quartet (it was completed days after the G major Quartet designated as such) is unfailingly delightful. They certainly have the measure of impassioned lyricism tinged with slight neurotic quirks in the outer movements. The inner movements are not quite so assured. Their playing of the scherzo has the right amount of energy, but it lacks a certain passion and the slow movement, one of Dvořák’s most harmonically experimental, could have been more searching. That said, theirs is a fine performance, if not quite on the level of the Quintet.