Dvoøák – String Quintets from the Old and New Worlds

0 of 5 stars

Quintet in G for strings, Op.77
Quintet in E flat for strings, Op.97
Nocturne in B, Op.40

[Vera Beths & Marc Destrubé (violins), Jürgen Kussmaul & Guus Jeukendrup (violas), Anner Bylsma (cello) & Marji Danilow (double bass)]

Recorded between 5-9 March 2001 at Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem, Holland

Reviewed by: Vanda Prochazka

Reviewed: November 2002

It is not surprising that L’Archibudelli have chosen Dvoøák’s Quintets for their latest CD. This repertoire offers a wide range of expression – from deeply personal movements full of emotional power and ’moodiness’ to dance-like melodies with the lightness of folk tunes. L’Archibudelli play on period instruments and use gut strings in such a satisfying way and seize a perfect opportunity to bring the best out of their playing. What is interesting about L’Archibudelli is that they are a chamber ensemble of variable size (two to eight players) and not an established string quartet that invites guests.

The core of L’Archibudelli’s repertoire consists of either notoriously familiar works such as Schubert’s ’Trout’ or little-known works by favourite composers – Dvoøák’s string quintets and Nocturne are in the latter category. The warm and unassuming sound L’Archibudelli have produced for more than a decade has found a perfect ground in these works, which are flawlessly suited to period interpretation.

What strikes one straightaway is the tempos. The first movement of the G major Quintet, written in 1875 (originally Op.18) and revised in 1888, is just a bit faster, while the other three movements are slightly slower, than traditional recordings by Czech ensembles. Because of the ensemble’s polished, self-contained sound, which to some degree erases contrasts between the instruments, the unusual textures of this quintet – two violins, viola, cello and double bass – are hardly audible. On the other hand what sometimes seems like a lack of contrast certainly helps the hidden operatic associations to regain their full flavour. The ’Poco andante’ movement is a charmingly beautiful example of richly varied tempo changes, which never falls into self-indulging mannerism.

The troubled history of the Nocturne in B major starts with the String Quartet in E minor (a work later destroyed by the composer). Dvoøák then used the originally designated ’Andante religioso’ as one of the slow movements in Op.77 but decided that “two slow movements seemed to be too much,” and then reworked it for string orchestra and published it as Nocturne, Op.40. Dvoøák also prepared a transcription for violin and piano and one for two pianos (now lost). The fact that Dvoøák retained the piece and prepared two transcriptions, which would normally have been done by one of his pupils, signals that it was of great importance to him.

It is logical that L’Archibudelli include the Nocturne to follow Op.77, even going to the trouble of preparing their “equally personal interpretation, occasionally adding a second viola to help convey the richness of Dvoøák’s orchestral texture”. Not the first ensemble to do so, however – the Panocha (Supraphon) and Vlach Quartets (Naxos) count amongst the best. Interestingly, L’Archibudelli present a more orchestral texture, which is heavier and darker in its character; partly because of the additional viola and partly because the bass part is written much lower than one would expect. The double bass is not so dependent on the cello as in Op.77 and anchors the work with its regular pizzicato pulse.

Composed in the USA, the Quintet, Op.97, for two violins, two violas and cello, belongs among Dvoøák’s finest chamber works. L’Archibudelli surprisingly play the slow opening as a self-absorbed vision of beauty; the opening cello line for a moment loses the group’s characteristic integrity but the second movement is back ’on track’ and treats us with some lavishly played tunes. One can argue that the following ’Larghetto’ is one of the greatest movements written in the form of variations. With a double theme in A flat major and minor, as a kind of Dvoøák extravaganza, the second one was originally written as a new American national hymn, which is played quite moderately here. The syncopated rhythm of the last movement flows so naturally as to underline the intrinsic way of playing so characteristic of L’Archibudelli.

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