> Antonin Dvorak - Keller Quartet [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- June2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Antonin DVORÁK (1841-1904)
String quartet in F no.12 op.96, ‘American’
String Quintet in Eb major, op.97

Keller Quartet, with Anna Deeva, viola in the quintet
Recorded at the Salle de Musique de la Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, January 1994 (quartet) and June 1994 (quintet)
APEX 0927 44355 2 [55:12]


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These are recordings of two of the works Dvořák composed on his visits to the USA. He’d gone there to help set up the National Conservatory of Music in New York, and to act as its first Director. Programme-note writers often comment (as does the author of the booklet of this disc) that Dvořák deliberately used elements of American folk-music, without explaining how this is actually manifested in the music. In fact, Dvořák composed these two works while staying at a Czech community at Spillville, and was immersed in Czech music and culture while he was there. Both pieces show the melodic and rhythmic characteristics of Bohemian music which Dvořák developed in his works all through his life, together with an unmistakable vein of nostalgia, understandable in one so far from home.

The quartet (which used to be known as the Nigger, and more recently has been re-christened with the PC title it now bears) is the more straightforward and extrovert of the two works. The first movement is given a fine, vigorous and idiomatic performance by the Keller Quartet, while the melancholy melody of the slow movement is projected lovingly. The cheerful scherzo and infectiously playful finale are equally convincing. This is an enjoyable and extremely stylish interpretation.

The Quintet is a more complex, equivocal work. The extra instrument is a second viola, which provides the composer with the opportunity for gloriously rich textures. Again, the Kellers, with Anna Deeva the guest viola, give a wonderfully idiomatic performance, full of rhythmic ‘lift’ and sharply defined contours. The first movement’s climaxes are built with passion, while the Scherzo that follows, one of Dvořák’s most delightful, has a real rhythmic bite to it. And the viola playing in the Trio is a treat for the ears – fantastic phrasing, and so good to hear Dvořák writing this great melody for the instrument he loved to play himself.

The third movement begins with a quiet melody played by just the two violas and the ‘cello, and gradually expands from there into a set of free variations. This performance captures the music’s quiet dignity and sense of space so very well, and the eventful finale concludes with a splendidly convincing climax.

This is a most rewarding disc; the quartet plays superbly, with great conviction and sense of style, and their unanimity of purpose is never in doubt. The recording is highly acceptable – quite close, but always preserving the overall picture.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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