Notes and Editorial Reviews
"Dvo?ák’s Czech Suite is in D Major, not D Minor, as the CD back-plate and insert note incorrectly state...But the way Dvo?ák glides effortlessly between major and minor mode makes this quibble—shall I say?—a minor one. Originally written in 1879 (the early opus number was a ruse to circumvent a publishing agreement the composer had with Simrock), the piece was scored for strings, two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, English horns, French horns, and trumpets, plus timpani. In other words, it was a suite or serenade in full orchestral dress. In this regard, it follows in the path of the slightly earlier Slavonic Dances, Slavonic Rhapsodies, and the truly in D-Minor Wind Serenade. But Dvo?ák wished to
distinguish the suite as being specifically Czech in origin, basing it on a string of Czech dances, such as the sousedská and the furiant. Though a number of recordings of the piece are available (mostly as fillers for Dvo?ák’s symphonies), none that I know of utilizes the arrangement heard here by ensemble acht’s (they go by the lower-case spelling) horn-player, Ulf-Guido Schäfer, for two violins, viola, cello, double-bass, clarinet, bassoon, and horn. It’s an arrangement that seems to work well enough, though, to be honest, I suspect not much would either help or hinder what is probably not one of the composer’s more memorable pieces. Much as I adore Dvo?ák’s music, I am not deaf to its weaknesses, one of which seems to me to be an inverse relationship between quantity and quality: it may not be very interesting, but at least it’s long.
In contrast, the earlier composed (1875) but later numbered (op. 77) G-Major String Quintet is one of Dvo?ák’s chamber music masterpieces. Written for the unusual combination of a string quartet with added double bass, its original version was in five movements, an Andante religioso, borrowed from the composer’s E-Minor String Quartet, placed as the second movement. This movement was subsequently withdrawn and published separately as the Notturno, op. 40, in 1883. The numbering of Dvo?ák’s works in relation to their chronology is messy, due largely to the fact that he dealt with several publishing houses, each of which had its own sales and marketing strategy. Thus, the quintet, in its present four-movement form, was not published until 1888, several years after it was revised, with an opus number that suggests it is a much later work than it actually is.
The evidence of its youthfulness and exuberance is in the hearing of it. The first movement exudes confidence and Dvo?ák’s good-natured personality. It thrusts forward using exactly the same triplet figure from which Schubert derives the first movement motive of his “Death and the Maiden” Quartet; but shifted by Dvo?ák into the major mode, the result is quite the opposite of Schubert’s unrelenting rush to catastrophe. The second movement scherzo is one of those typically Dvo?ákian peasant dances punctuated by syncopations and cross-rhythms, alternating with melting melodic passages. The poco andante, on the other hand, is not one of Dvo?ák’s typical dumka slow movements. The Czech influence is still strong, but the way in which the instruments are deployed and the movement unfolds has an almost late-Beethoven quality about it. Of course, no one wrote toe-tapping, thigh-slapping music like Dvo?ák, and the Allegro assai finale is no exception.
The new recording from MDG is superb on all counts..."
Jerry Dubins, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Czech Suite in D major, Op. 39/B 93 by Antonín Dvorák
Written: 1879; Bohemia
Quintet for String Quartet and Double Bass in G major, Op. 77/B 49 by Antonín Dvorák
Written: 1875; Bohemia
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