It was during the mid-1880s, surely assisted
by the tide of nationalism that swept over eastern Europe, that
the Bohemian-born composer Antonín Dvorák made his
international breakthrough, quickly progressing to phenomenal
success. Dvorák began to receive one compositional commission
after another and various prestigious academic awards. Numerous
offers of tours and conducting obligations took him five times
to England alone, within the space of three years. There he soon
became esteemed as one of the foremost composers of his time.
In 1887 Dvorák took a break from this
hectic period and turned to calmer and diverse pursuits. Outside
music Dvorák had many hobbies. He was often seen at railway
stations train-spotting and he enjoyed bird-watching particularly
at his summer house in Prague. This very industrious musician
found rest and relaxation in the chamber music he loved so well.
He remarked, “I have so much in my old suitcase that lies
slumbering and wants to see the light”. It was thus that
he wrote at the time to a friend, referring to the Piano Quintet
in A major op. 81, which, within a short space of time, achieved
tremendous success in the world’s salons and chamber-music
The substantial and joyous Piano Quintet op.
81 completed in 1887 is composed in the Slavic idiom that pervades
so many of Dvorák’s best works written before his
extended stay in the United States of America. The Leipzig String
Quartet with pianist Christian Zacharias demonstrate their full
measure of the score, so overflowing with vivid harmonic colouring,
vital dance rhythms and sensual and emotionally rich melodies
together with brisk contrasts of mood of Bohemian folk music.
The assured and committed performance of the players makes the
music all the more magnetic. The impassioned spontaneity of eminent
pianist Christian Zacharias is particularly impressive.
Dvorák’s much admired String Quintet
op. 97 in E flat-major from 1893 was composed during an extended
holiday in the United States visiting the Bohemian colony at Spillville,
Iowa. There he reinforced his attraction to the culture of country
and was inspired by the folk-songs of the American-Negroes and
the authentic ritual music of the Iroquois Indians that he met.
Dvorák stated that he did not quote directly from actual
Native American folk material in the String Quintet op. 97. “I
have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities
of the Indian music and, using these themes as subjects, have
developed them with all the resources of modern rhythm, harmony,
counterpoint, and orchestral colour.” The strings of the
Leipzig String Quartet and violist Hartmut Rohde command a beautiful
singing tone and phrases throughout and certainly get to the heart
of the character of the score. Biographer Otakar Sourek described
the third movement Larghetto as “one of the most exotic
of Dvorák’s American creations.” I just love
the ensemble’s stylish interpretation of the Larghetto which
is passionate, spontaneous and exemplary in execution.
The MDG Gold sleeve-notes are interesting and informative but
not always easy to understand. However the engineers have provided
excellent sound quality. These are hugely impressive performances
from first note to last. The experienced Leipzig String Quartet
are one of Europe’s best ensembles and I have obtained hours
of pleasure from their interpretations. This release from MDG
Gold deserves the highest praise.