> Antonin Dvorak - String Quintet [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
String Quintet in G major, op.77
Intermezzo (Nocturne) from B.19
Drobnosti (Miniatures) op.75a
Andante appassionato in F major, B. 40a
Vlach Quartet Prague with Jakub Waldemann, double bass
Recorded in the Martinek Studio, Prague, 22nd-23rd January, 2000 (G major Quintet) and 25th October 2000 (remaining tracks)
NAXOS 8.555378 [57:35]


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This is not one of those chamber music CDs where the players are recorded from a respectful distance. Here we are right in amongst them, so that we can hear every detail of the intense interplay between the instruments. That being so, it’s just as well that the playing of the Vlach Quartet Prague, plus their double bass colleague Jakub Waldemann, is superlatively good. Their leader, Jana Vlachová – the daughter of the founder of the original Vlach Quartet, Josef Vlach – is one of those first violins who really lead from the front, no mistake. But the sound she produces is ravishing, full of colour and depth, and her partners in the group match her worthily; this is a treat for the ears.

There are two full-length works on the disc, plus a couple of interesting ‘odds and ends’. The major works are, firstly, the wonderful quintet in G, scored for string quartet plus double bass, and the charming Drobnosti for two violins and viola. Thus we have one piece for string quartet with extra bass, and one piece minus a true bass instrument. The odds and ends are an Intermezzo which Dvořák had originally included in the Quintet, and an Andante appassionato in F from the incomplete String Quartet in A minor op.12.

The quintet with double bass is a scrumptious piece, entirely characteristic of its composer. The presence of the bass suggests that he wanted it to have a serenade-like character, and that is borne out by the music. It has few shadows, and is full of delightful melodies, dancing rhythms and rich, glowing textures. The solemn, slightly tentative opening is a leg-pull, being even in the ‘wrong’ key. Soon this is swept aside, and it’s pure enjoyment from then on. The Intermezzo on track 5 was apparently originally intended to be the slow movement of the double bass quintet, and it’s not quite clear why he replaced it, as it is a very beautiful piece, equally as lovely in its way as the existing movement.

Drobnosti (‘Miniatures’) is another unusual work, scored for two violins and viola, and having something of the character of a suite. The most original movement is the second, described as a ‘Capriccio’, and having a wild, rustic character with much emphasis on the augmented fourth or tritone. It is a tribute to Dvořák’s instrumentation that you don’t miss the ’cello underpinning the other three instruments – the work inhabits its own unique and very convincing sound-world.

In the final track, we arrive for the first time at the normal string quartet grouping; the movement from the aborted A minor quartet is another fine piece, an outpouring of heartfelt lyricism, which ends this fine CD in a gently thoughtful mood. Relatively unfamiliar but very fine music, superb playing stunningly recorded – another fantastic bargain from Naxos. How do they do it?

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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