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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Sextet in A major for two violins, two violas and two cellos, B.80, Op.48 (1878) [33:20]
String Quintet in G major for two violins, viola, cello and double bass, B.49, Op.77 (1875) [33:37]
Intermezzo in B for two violins, viola, cello and double bass, B.49 (1875) [04:32]
The Nash Ensemble: (Marianne Thorsen, violin I; Malin Broman, violin II; Lawrence Power, viola; Garfield Jackson, viola II (tracks 1-4); Paul Watkins, cello; Natalie Clein, cello (tracks 1-4); Duncan McTier, double bass (tracks 5-9))
rec. St. Jude’s Church, Hampstead, London, UK, 30-31 Jan, 1 Feb 2004. DDD
ASV GOLD GLD4011 [71:34]

ASV indicate that on their Gold label they are committed to providing a catalogue of high-quality chamber music recordings, many of which have received considerable critical acclaim. Some of today’s leading artists who have recorded for ASV include: cellist Leonid Gorokhov and pianist Nikolai Demidenko, the Schubert Ensemble of London, cellist Raphael Wallfisch, The Lindsays, cellist Julian Lloyd, violinist Daniel Hope, pianist John McCabe, clarinettist Emma Johnson, the English Chamber Orchestra, soprano Dame Felicity Lott, pianist Graham Johnson and The Nash Ensemble.

This release is an excellent way to explore the String Sextet and G major String Quintet, two of Dvořák’s lesser known chamber scores. They are nonetheless hidden gems that greatly assisted him to establish his mature style. I have not seen these two scores listed very often in recital programmes. However, at the last three Lake District Summer Music Festivals I had the pleasure of hearing both the Sextet and G major Quintet performed so admirably by the renowned Chilingirian Quartet and colleagues. A quick check has revealed as many as eight or so available recordings of the Sextet in the UK catalogues, which I found rather surprising, but only a handful of versions of the earlier G major Quintet.

These three chamber works were composed in the mid- to late-1870s at a time when Dvořák was beginning to become noticed both at home and abroad. It was to be only a few years before he made his international breakthrough which progressed quickly to phenomenal success. Dvořák 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. Between 1892 and 1895 he was working and composing in the USA where he soon became esteemed as one of the foremost composers of his time.

String Sextet in A major, B.80, Op.48 (1878)

Following closely in the wake of his first set of Slavonic Dances, the String Sextet in A major from 1878 is the work which assisted Dvořák on his way to international recognition, being performed outside Bohemia, in Berlin at the home of Joseph Joachim before it was heard in his native Czechoslovakia.

In four movements the score for the first time introduces overtly Czech styles in his chamber music.

In the allegro moderato opening movement there is a heavy nostalgic feel reminiscent of the English Pastoral school that was to follow some thirty or so years later. Highly attractive and sensitive playing by the Nash. The Dumka movement, subtitled ‘Elegy’, contains contrasting blends of cheerfulness and sadness here excellently communicated. In the third movement, a fleet-footed Furiant is vivaciously and mischievously done. The colourful finale comprises a theme and variations together with a furious race to the finishing line. The demands of this concluding movement presents no problem to these impeccable players.

The Nash deliver rich and passionate playing burnished with character and this version almost achieves top spot. My primary recommendation for the Sextet is the superb 1983 digital account from the Boston Symphony Chamber Players lead by Joseph Silverstein on Warner Apex 7559 79679-2. The coupling is an equally fine version of the Smetana Piano Trio in G minor, Op.15.

String Quintet in G major, B.49, Op.77 (1875)

Originally a five movement work, the String Quintet in G major was entered into a competition under title of ’My People’. Subsequently the second movement, the Intermezzo (Nocturno), was removed from the work. An unusual feature of the score is the inclusion of a double bass that provides additional richness.

The opening allegro con fuoco overflows with wonderful and contrasting tunes and ideas; one minute brooding and the next galloping. The Nash are more than equal to the considerable demands of this melodic movement. The mainly dance-like character of the scherzo is tinged with Slavic melancholy. Superb judgement of tempo with a really beautiful silvery tone from the excellent leader Marianne Thorsen. The third movement poco, andante with its distinctive and gentle rocking theme is sensitively done. The light-hearted mood of the finale is given a jocular and vivacious interpretation.

This wonderful account of the String Quintet from the Nash Ensemble is now my preferred version. I would not wish to be without the first-rate digital recordings from the: Chilingirian Quartet on Chandos CHAN9046 c/w Intermezzo in B major, B.47, Op.40, String Quintet in E flat major, Op.97 and the Vlach Quartet, Prague on Naxos 8.555378 c/w Intermezzo (Nocturno), from B.49, Four Drobnosti, Op.75a, Andante appassionato, B.40a.

Intermezzo in B for two violins, viola, cello and double bass, B.49 (1875)

The third work on the disc is the brief Intermezzo (Nocturno) for two violins, viola, cello and double bass that was the original second movement of the G major String Quintet, B.49, Op.77.

The sound quality is a credit to the ASV engineers and the concise notes are interesting and reasonably informative. Sloppy work however with the timings provided in the booklet notes which are incorrect but are given accurately on the rear of the jewel case. This is an excellent release from the highly talented Nash Ensemble of two Dvořák chamber works that deserve to be better known..

Michael Cookson



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