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Jakub Jan RYBA (1765-1815)
Flute Quartet in C (1811) [15:35]
String Quartet in A minor (1801) [7:00]
Flute Quartet in F (1811) [18:00]
String Quartet in D minor (1801) [9:56]
Jan Ostry (flute)
M. Nostitz Quartet
rec. 9-12 November 2004 Studio Arco Diva, Dumovinč, Prague
NAXOS 8.557729 [50:54]

Based on family experience as well as other accounts, holding down the positions of parish organist and teacher is often fraught with heartache. Such is the case with the composer of the quite enjoyable pieces we have here. There is some detailed information available on the Internet regarding Ryba’s life, but unfortunately, it all appears to be in Czech, so I am reliant on the more general information available in English, including Keith Anderson’s helpful liner-notes.
Ryba was born near Plzeň to a schoolmaster. Sometimes more out of necessity than desire, teaching was a profession that followed Ryba throughout his abbreviated life. He found he could capitalize on his keyboard skills and played organ for a number of churches. His time in teaching and playing wasn’t entirely placid—he occasionally fell into conflicts with the Pastor or the school’s administration, which did on one occasion get him fired. Reasons for his suicide differ, but his chronically dismal finances and friction with antagonistic higher-ups were certainly contributing factors.
Sadly, an immense amount of Ryba’s music does not survive. The notes indicate that he wrote ninety Masses and seven Requiems in addition to over one hundred other works. This disc holds the only remaining quartets out of over seventy that were listed at one time. What we have in this recording shows quite a bit of charm - as well as the mark of Haydn’s chamber music. The pieces here also remind me of a recording I reviewed for this website a while ago - the works of a contemporary composer Franciszek Lessel - who shows a similar influence of Haydn and C.P.E. Bach. Ryba’s works - at least those on this disc - are of a smaller scale, but hold similar appeal.
This is the second disc of Ryba’s works to come from Naxos. The other includes his most famous work — still performed during the Christmas season in the region in which Ryba lived and worked — a Christmas mass, along with a shorter mass, the Missa Pastoralis, found on Naxos 8.554428. This music is certainly a pleasure to listen to. Of the works here, the flute quartets are each, respectively, twice as long as the string quartets that follow. Opening the disc is a flute quartet in C, as sunny as its key would traditionally indicate. The lines here, as with all of the pieces on this disc, are clean and elegantly proportioned. Enthusiasts of Haydn’s chamber music should take note. The majority of the brief Andante gives the melodic line to the flute as the rest of the ensemble provides pizzicato accompaniment before the rondo Finale brings us to a rollicking close. A refreshing piece overall.
What the string quartets lack in length is made up for in their gravity. Both pieces begin with slow movements. The A minor quartet’s opening Andante poco adagio has a tightly-constructed contrapuntalism which gives a general impression of being backward-looking to earlier styles, and ends just as things get interesting. The following Menuetto brings us more up-to-date and holds interest, but again feels rather abbreviated. The ending movement is lovely; syncopated to throw things a touch off-kilter.
The Flute Quartet in F, from its first notes, places us in a forest scene, with brief interjections of birdcalls, which are tossed back and forth amongst the members of the ensemble. The central movement is a set of variations on a Hungarian folk tune, which give prominence to each of the instruments, alternating with the flute. The movement has charm but is no grand new approach to variation movements. Overall, the piece is sunny and gregarious, especially the triple-meter finale.
Flautist Jan Ostrý and the M. Nostitz Quartet are quite well-balanced, with no tendency for the brightness of the flute to overpower. The sound and ambient presence of the recording are warm and distant enough to allow for a sense of space without losing definition. I certainly would recommend this for any fans of Haydn’s chamber music.
David Blomenberg


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