Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 12 in F,
Op. 96, “American”;
No. 10 in Eb,
No. 9 in d,
for 2 Violins, Cello, and Harmonium,
Oliver Triendl (hrm)
class="ARIAL12"> CPO 777624 (2 CDs: 126:01)
On only one previous occasion have I had the opportunity to review an album by the Vogler Quartet, and that was back in 2005 in performances of string quartets by Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Hanns Eisler. On my own, however, I’ve managed to acquire a few of the ensemble’s other discs, including those of piano quintets by Ludwig Thuille, Schubert’s String Quintet, and a CD coupling Berg’s
with Verdi’s E-Minor String Quartet. And I’ve always liked what I heard. I also like what I hear in this first volume of what is to be a survey of Dvorák’s complete works for string quartet.
That, of course, may be a bit of a misnomer, since included in this two-disc set is the composer’s
, which is more of a keyboard quartet than it is a string quartet, though it calls for an odd combination of instruments that conforms to no conventional ensemble standard. In place of a viola, there’s a second violin, and the keyboard instrument is not a piano but a harmonium (aka a pump organ), which supplies air to its bellows by means of foot pedals. Its compact size (compared to a pipe organ), portability, and affordable cost made it a popular instrument in small churches and private parlors from about the mid 19th century into the first couple of decades of the 20th century, when it was pretty much rendered obsolete by the electronic organ.
, originally a cycle of 18 songs for voice and piano, 12 of which Dvorák transcribed for string quartet, though
was never the composer’s own title for either the songs or their quartet arrangements. For a detailed explanation of how that came about, see my review of the complete cycle in 36:4. While inclusion of these arrangements in a complete survey of Dvorák’s string quartets is both logical and expected, the Vogler Quartet here includes only seven of the 12 transcriptions from the composer’s own hand: Nos. 1, 2, 3, 11, 6, 7, and 12. Would it not have made more sense to complete the set with the remaining five numbers, and hold onto the five
for a future volume?
Disc 1 opens with the most popular of Dvorák’s string quartets, the “American,” written in 1893 during the composer’s summer holiday in that trendy vacation spot, Spillville, Iowa, home to a sizeable Czech immigrant community which surely welcomed Dvorák and temporarily alleviated his homesickness. The quartet is hardly any more “American” than is the “New World” Symphony, completed in New York just prior to Dvorák’s trip west. Despite its major key of F, the quartet exhibits those same minor-key turns of phrase and Czech-inflected folk melodies, harmonies, and rhythms as the symphony. It’s hard to imagine anything much more Slavic sounding than the quartet’s
movement or the
dance of the score’s scherzo, marked
While I wouldn’t necessarily judge the performance by the Vogler Quartet better than those of the Jerusalem or Emerson Quartets, I’d have to say that it’s definitely one of the best ones I’ve heard of late. The ensemble generates a good deal of energy through rhythmic pointing and sprung tempos that are smartly addressed, without being overly fast or feeling pushed; and the slow movement is delivered in idiomatic
style, but sans heart-on-sleeve sobbing.
The much earlier quartets Nos. 9 and 10 are also very well done. And Oliver Triendl, veteran pianist of many fine CPO recordings, offers up the keyboard part of the
on an actual harmonium. It’s a sound so entrancing in such Czech-flavored pieces that if I encountered someone who had never heard a note of Dvorák’s music before, this might just be the first thing I’d play for him—simply lovely. This is an outstanding first volume in what promises to be one of the more desirable collections of Dvorák’s complete works for string quartet. It comes highly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Be the first to review this title