Notes and Editorial Reviews
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The latest release from The Emerson String Quartet, winner of 9 Grammys, is an album of works never recorded during the course of their 30-year career.
The release of Old World–New World has been a long cherished dream and features the Emerson’s favorite Dvorák middle and late string quartets.
A bonanza of romantic melody, not a note on this 3-CD release has ever before been recorded by the Emersons. Also includes Dvorák’s youthful and infrequently performed song cycle on the subject of love,
Cypresses, which provides a compelling thematic trove for
several of these enamoring quartets.
R E V I E W:
In these Dvo?ák scores the Emerson maintains an impressive and consistent standard of playing that few other quartets can achieve.
Dvo?ák composed some of these scores during his exile in the USA and others in his home city of Prague; hence the set title. We are told in the booklet notes that the Emerson have never recorded any of these works before. With such a theme it feels like an oversight not to have included the popular
String Quartet No. 12, Op. 96, B. 179 (1893) known as the ‘
American’ as it would have sat perfectly within this collection. The Emerson have in fact already recorded the score.
Few composers can match the Bohemia-born Dvo?ák’s emphasis on melodic invention and sparkling lyricism. This is coupled with a rich and individual coloration often deeply rooted in his native Slavic folk music.
The first disc opens with the earliest completed work here the
String Quartet No. 10 from 1878/9. Brahms had by then become a staunch champion of Dvo?ák. Earlier in 1876 the great German composer had written a letter of recommendation to the publisher Simrock. The
E flat major Quartet, B. 92 was composed in response to a commission for a “
work from Jean Becker the founder and leader of the Florentine Quartet. For this reason the score is sometimes called the ‘
Slavonic’. Only a short time later, in 1881, Dvo?ák wrote his
String Quartet No. 11 for the Viennese Quartet led by its founder Josef Hellmesberger Sr.
Disc two commences with one of Dvo?ák’s best known chamber works the
String Quintet No. 3 in E flat major ‘
American’. This specifies an extra viola and was written in 1893 during his three year stay in the United States working at the New York National Music Conservatory. Dvo?ák holidayed at the Bohemian colony at Spillville, Iowa and there his writing became inspired both by African-American spirituals and by ritual music of the Native Americans. Sister works to the ‘
Quintet that were also composed during his stay in the USA include the
String Quartet No. 12 ‘
American’ and the
Symphony No. 9 ‘
Cypresses for string quartet, B. 152 originate from 1865 when as a young man Dvo?ák composed a set of love songs based on the work of the Moravian poet Gustav Pfleger-Moravský. He arranged twelve of the songs in 1887 as string quartet movements; the title
Cypresses was conferred at the time of their publication in 1921. Unfortunately in the booklet the titles are not given.
The third disc of the set has Dvo?ák’s two final quartets both completed in 1895 after returning to work at the Prague Conservatory. The
String Quartet No. 13 took Dvo?ák only a few weeks to write. A frequently overlooked masterwork of the genre the
String Quartet No. 14 had been started in New York and was completed in Prague. Overshadowed by the enduring popularity of the ‘
Quartet it is a shame that these two quartets are not played as often as their quality deserves.
Formed in 1976 the award-winning New York City-based Emerson Quartet use traditional modern strung instruments. It seems a pointless exercise to go through the performances of each quartet movement individually as the Emerson maintain throughout an impressive and consistent standard of playing in a way that few other quartets could achieve. With fine musicianship the players handle the challenges of the varying emotional depth and meter of the scores with accomplishment. I noted that they eschew any temptation unnecessarily to exaggerate dynamics. In the ‘
Quintet violist Paul Neubauer fits in seamlessly with the group. I never felt any lack of emotional attachment; an unfair criticism sometimes levelled at this elite group. Their technical command and precision is legendary and their tone has been closely recorded to great advantage by the DG engineers. It would be hard to imagine these scores played better.
-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Featured Sound Samples
String Quartet no 10: II. Dumka. Andante con moto
Cypresses for String Quartet: No 4: Poco adagio
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