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Bedřich Smetana: String Quartets

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Album Review

For all the talk of the divide between the popular and classical worlds in the 1960s, the Beatles were recognized as masters from the start on the classical side, and arrangements of their songs go back almost as far as the songs themselves. This entry from the Czech Republic's Wihan Quartet deserves credit for not repeating any past formula. The quartet itself gets top billing, and their performances are attractive, but the originality comes mostly from Czech composer Lubos Krticka. His reworkings are called arrangements on the packaging, but they occupy an extremely interesting space between what is normally called arrangement and what is usually thought of as fantasy. The Beatles' tunes are kept pretty much intact but are extended in several directions: in harmony, rhythm, and extent. Phrases may undergo a brief development that takes them outside the realm of diatonic harmony, and the rhythms of rock are realized by the string quartet in several novel ways. The group is aided, of course, by the fact that several of these songs involved a string quartet in the first place, but Krticka does not shy away from the rock-oriented "Come Together" and "Can't Buy Me Love," which might seem hard to pull off in this format. He has the sense to leave "Yesterday," which cannot be improved upon, pretty much alone. The program is short at just under 44 minutes, and it is likely that many listeners will be left wanting more; perhaps a second volume is in order.

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