The Vlach Quartet Prague has previously recorded a
highly idiomatic and well regarded cycle of this composer's string quartets.
I am happy to report that the second volume of this quintet series lives
up to high standards achieved by both that set of discs and its own
immediate predecessor (Volume 1). The latter successfully coupled his
Schubertian A minor Opus 1 with the masterful "American" in E major
(Op. 97) and this issue also contrasts early and later material in an
equally effective and satisfying programme. The Op. 77 numbering of
the main work included here is misleading in that it was originally
the Opus 18 and was written much earlier (1875) than might be imagined.
That said, it is not a totally unidiomatic piece and its original subtitle
("My People") is not misplaced in that it does have plenty of
Bohemian folk inflections in its four movements (the original, earlier
additional movement, later dropped, is included here as the charming
but fairly insubstantial Intermezzo).
As ever with Dvořák, the music is beautifully lyrical and highly
listenable but without ever plumbing the emotional depths of the
later quartets (the Op. 106, for instance).
If the inclusion of a
double bass was perhaps a foreshadowing of Dvořák's later inspiration
by, or at least allusion to, jazz, blues and other popular idioms (e.g.
in the late tone poem The Wood Dove, as well as the more
obvious "American" works), the concentrated miniatures (Drobnosti),
for string trio, hint, in several places, more overtly at this side
of his musical character. I found these, despite their brevity, the
most satisfying music on the disc, with the closing Andante appassionato
also being another pleasant but not entirely original rejigging of a
section of an earlier quartet.
While this disc does not
represent Dvořák the chamber composer at the peak of his powers,
it is beautifully performed and recorded and well worth the modest asking
price. If you haven't already, buy Volume 1 first or, better still,
the Vlach's coupling of the "American" quartet and the Op. 106,
but purchasers of this disc are hardly likely to be disappointed.