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DAVID WILKINS listens to
Dvorák String Quartets

Naxos 8.553377

Record Box


Dvorak: String Quartets Vol 6. Copyright (c) 1999 HNH International Ltd.Rather 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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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews