DAVID WILKINS listens to
Dvorák String Quartets
like Beethoven before him, Dvorak was constantly drawn back to the quartet
form throughout his creative life. It would be going a little far, however,
to claim that the intrinsic musical merit of Dvorak's early quartets is
as interesting or as endlessly refreshing as that of Beethoven's opus 18
works. There are great things in his more mature essays in the medium -
most popularly in the opus 96 ('American'), of course - but these early
works possess their own brand of melodious charm and certainly repay the
trifling outlay required to obtain them on the super-budget Naxos label.
The F minor quartet (opus 9) was composed in the year of Dvorak's marriage,
1873. It begins with a short, tentative introduction of Bohemian wisfulness
before launching on a vigorous sonata-form Allegro con brio. Although there
is ample passion in the playing of the Vlach Quartet, even they cannot make
the elaboration and development of the material truly memorable and the
movement seems overlong at almost thirteen minutes.
The Andante replicates some music Dvorak used in the Romance for Violin
and Orchestra. The melody is tender but not unduly saccharine and is played
here with more concern for easeful relaxation than poignancy. The Vlach
players conjure plenty of syncopated sparkle in the short Tempo di Valse
movement but some listeners might find the first violin here (as throughout
the disc, in fact) recorded a little too forward in the sound picture. The
finale triggers thoughts of the same composer's Slavonic Dances. There is
plenty of authentic-seeming passion in the playing but there could be a
touch more bite to the rhythmic attack.
When it comes to the A minor quartet (composed, in fact, only a year
later), there is an immediate and palpable sense that one is dealing with
a considerably finer work. The brooding melancholy of the opening Allegro's
first subject is finely contrasted with the relaxed material of the second-subject
group. The Vlach Quartet move well between these differing emotional demands
and the strong playing of the cello line in particular is a good counterbalance
to the slight tendency of the leader to over-sweeten his tone.
I have a very strong feeling in the Andante Cantabile of the players
only just resisting the temptation to portamento slides between the notes.
You might almost wish they had given-in once or twice! Be that as it may,
their response to the music's lyricism is concentrated and very satisfying
indeed. There could be a bit more mischievousness added to the fun of the
Allegro scherzando, perhaps, but the triumph of the strong triplet figure
over the beguiling pastoral episodes in the finale ensure that the disc
ends on a grand and very winning note.
Copyright © 26 April 2000 David Wilkins,
Eastbourne, Sussex, UK
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