all-Dvořák disc opens with one of the most famous of
that composer's string quartets, the so-called 'American',
Op. 96. The ASQ brings a fair amount of life to the piece
- especially in the dancing strains of the third movement
molto vivace. Rhythms are good and crisp. The recording
strikes me as too close, however.
slow movement is quite intense, with excellent soloistic
work. The main distraction here, however, is the plonky
pizzicato cello, which emerges as dull and lifeless. Given
its frequent occurrence, this becomes very distracting.
The final two movements are the most successful, the rustic
third movement dancing its way along and the finale being
imbued with a fair amount of energy. To the ASQ's credit,
they do not try to make the buzzing, generative textures
E flat quartet begins in great good humour. There is much
relaxation here, and the ASQ seems to react to this well
yet without undue indulgence. The Dumka second movement
(subtitled Elegie) is most suavely dispatched. Communication
between the quartet members is at a high level. Timbrally
they balance superbly. Apparently it was this movement that
impressed Brahms so much, and it is easy to hear why. The
third movement is marked 'Romanza'. It includes some rather
impassioned sections – well played here – before the finale
(an Allegro assai) bounces onto the scene.
Four Cypresses act as well-deserved encores. The
original set of 18 were songs, essentially love songs from
the composer to a beloved. There is certainly real warmth
of affection here in the ASQ's accounts of four of the composer's
1887 quartet arrangements. The first violin's tenderness
on the first (''I know that on my love to thee') is particularly
affecting, a trait continued in the second ('In many a heart
is death'). No. 11, the final Cypress we hear, provides
an upliftingly jolly close to a most enjoyable disc.
notes (by Vincent Plush) are a model of their kind. Informed
and wide-ranging, they form a perfect introduction to the
chamber music of this very special composer.