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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    

 

Dvorák (1841-1904) - Serenade in D Minor Op. 44, for Wind, 'Cello and Double Bass
 

What would Dvorák's music have been like if he'd joined the Wagner/Liszt camp? While I love their music, I must admit they are prone to pomposity. As a youngster, playing in his local village band must have obviated any such tendencies, and planted the seed which was fertilised by Smetana's exemplary use of Czech folk idioms. Fed by admiration for Schubert, and watered by Brahms' immediate influence, Dvorák's talents blossomed: his symphonies combined vital folksiness, daisy-fresh tunes, and structures as tight as drumskins. But, like his heros, Dvorák could also turn out beautifully-crafted lighter works, brilliant gems like the Slavonic Dances, Rhapsodies, and the two Serenades

Products of the fertile years following his marriage, Opuses (“Opera”?) 22 and 44, separated by just three years, positively buzz with invention. The earlier Serenade's strings fitted Dvorák's lyrical predisposition like a glove, but in the sturdy Wind Serenade he set himself a challenge. In opting for 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, double bassoon, 3 horns, 'cello and double-bass, and omitting that brightest, most agile of wind instruments, the flute, he'd assembled the ingredients for potentially a very stodgy pudding. So, how does he start? Demonstrate his culinary skills, whipping up some feathery meringue? No! Possibly recalling that village band, he ladles out the thickest of goos! This, probably the nearest Dvorák got to pomposity, is a joke, but one with a particular purpose, by contrast illuminating his deft touch. Now, that's “cooking with gas”. 

Although, by definition, a “serenade” isn't supposed to stretch its audience, Dvorák couldn't resist flexing his symphonic muscles, often toying with thematic fragments where you'd otherwise expect a new tune. 

1. Moderato quasi marcia: It's hard to resist the comic image of the arrival of a rotund dignitary, complete with watch-chain looped across his formidable frontage. If so, then so is a vision of fawning lackeys in the central section, which builds in excitement for the reappearance of the said dignitary. Make up your own picture for the wistful, fading finish. 

2. Menuetto: Not a minuet, but a sousedská, a laid-back, bucolic “neighbour's dance”, revelling in its playful little cascades of notes. The contrasting trio section is in the style of a deliciousy vivacious furiant

3. Andante con moto: Prepare to be astonished! These variations on a gorgeous, romantic theme sail into troubled waters: half-way through, over an insistent pulse an episode of uncommon intensity develops, from which the music never quite recovers, even, near the end, straying into territory that Mahler was already starting to claim as his own. 

4. Allegro molto: The relative gloom is dispelled by a rude, robust rondo with four varied episodes, romping and crooning its merry way until, on the summit of a big build-up, the comic dignitary returns in all his pomp. Naturally, he doesn't get the last word - behind his receding back the party resumes, only now an inhibition-free zone.
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© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street, Kamo, Whangarei 0101, Northland, New Zealand


 

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