Dvořák
Cypresses (songs for tenor and piano)
Cypresses (for string quartet)
Timothy Robinson (tenor) & Graham Johnson (piano)

Delme String Quartet
[Galina Solodchin & John Trusler (violins), John Underwood (viola) & Jonathan Williams (cello)]

Songs recorded on 14 January 2004 in Champs Hill, West Sussex; String quartet version recorded on 3 October 2002 in Pro Corda, Leiston Abbey, Suffolk
CD No: SOMM SOMMCD 236
Duration: 80 minutes
Reviewed: December 2004
This imaginatively planned CD combines the original vocal version of Cypresses from 1865 with the string quartet version that Dvořák made of twelve of the pieces more than twenty years later. One of his earliest works, the 18 songs occupied a very special place in Dvořák's heart. They were written under the strong influence of his unrequited love for one of his pupils, the sixteen-year-old Josefina Čermáková, whose younger sister was to eventually become his wife (shades of Mozart). Musically, Dvořák returned to the songs later on and alluded to them in other works; in the Opus 82 songs and, from that work, in the B minor Cello Concerto.
Recordings of the song-cycle are rare (Hyperion issued one with Philip Langridge and Radoslav Kvapil, now deleted) – so this new one from Somm fills an important gap, especially as it combines the vocal and string quartet versions on one generous disc. It is doubly welcome as all the performers clearly have an affinity with the repertoire. Timothy Robinson, singing in Czech and ably accompanied by Graham Johnson, has exactly the right kind of high-lying tenor for this music – one could imagine him in Janáček’s “Dairy of one who disappeared” – whilst the Delme Quartet has previously recorded for Somm a couple of Dvořák’s quartets.
Whilst it would idle to pretend that the vocal Cypresses is a Czech “Dichterliebe” waiting to be discovered – the poems by the Moravian poet Gustav Pfleger-Moravský are too sentimental and Dvořák's settings are not sufficiently varied – this release is valuable for filling a gap in our understanding of what was a seminal work for Dvořák. I prefer the quartet version for its greater variety and concision (an adaptation of the quartet version for string orchestra was used for a “Cypresses” ballet at the 2004 Edinburgh Festival by Ballet West USA).
The recording quality, from two locations, is sympathetic if placing the performers a little backward. Graham Melville-Mason's booklet-note is quite exemplary and the songs’ texts and an English translation are included. A most welcome release.

 

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