By Greg Cahill | From the November-December 2021 issue of Strings magazine
On its debut album (recorded in 2019, but newly released), the Verona Quartet (Jonathan Ong, violin; Dorothy Ro, violin; Abigail Rojansky, viola; Jonathan Dormand, cello) delivers electrifying performances of string quartets by Janáček, Szymanowski, and Ravel. The recording opens with Janáček’s viola-dominant String Quartet No. 2 (also known as the “Intimate Letters” quartet), the 63-year-old composer’s passionate ode to a remote love affair with Kamila Stösslová, a married woman nearly 40 years his junior. In 700 love letters, Janáček wrote: “You stand behind every note, you, living, forceful, loving. The fragrance of your body, the glow of your kisses—no, really of mine. Those notes of mine kiss all of you. They call for you passionately…”
In this pandemic age, that distant, unrequited romance gains new relevance. And the Veronas—winners of Chamber Music America’s coveted 2020 Cleveland Quartet Award—embrace it. They have a firm grasp on dynamics and know the value of air—the space between the notes—as they bring a remarkably nuanced performance to Szymanowski’s challenging String Quartet No. 2, Op. 56, especially the cinematic Moderato dolce e tranquillo. Ravel’s Debussy-influenced String Quartet in F major, M. 35, written when the composer was just 28, complements Szymanowski’s urgency with its lush, playful, but ultimately passionate, passages. This recording, helmed by Grammy-winning producer and engineer Alan Bise, sounds fantastic.