As a long-time devotee of this quartet, I knew I had to have this. Quite why this 2006 recording was kept back only eventually to be released as a valedictory celebration before their disbandment and retirement after so many years, is a mystery to me, but I nonetheless welcome its appearance. I reviewed in glowing terms their previous release of the Brahms quintets with Jon Nakamatsu on piano, made in 2011, and had no reason to expect anything other than another triumph; so it proves.
Obviously the supremacy of their instruments, the famous "Paganini Quartet" of Stradivarius instruments, partially explains the depth and resonance of their sound but that only partly accounts for the special beauty, homogeneity and flawless intonation of this justly renowned quartet; they are simply terrific artists of impeccable musicality and taste. The coupling is hardly original but played this well, it's a recommendation safe as houses to any budding or seasoned collector. I still await the re-release for the first time on CD of their exceptional K.465, which I have obtained privately, expertly transferred from LP, but meanwhile this is as good as any introduction to the Tokyo's art.
Some musicians mellow too much and lose their edge or drive as they age, but I hear no slackening here: the Smetana is as sharp and driven as you could wish, as Dvorak's "furiants", but the old aureate tone is still very much in evidence when they caress the plaintive Slovakian folk melodies. Wonderful playing.