Dvorak: String Quintet in A minor, Op. 1; String Quintet in E flat, Op. 97 (American)

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: String Quintet in A minor, Op. 1; String Quintet in E flat, Op. 97 (American)
PERFORMER: Vlach Quartet; Ladislav Kyselák (viola)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553376
Dvorák was just 19, and fresh out of the Prague Organ School, when he wrote his Op. 1 String Quintet – his earliest extant chamber work. Its opening movement is imbued with the melancholy, if not the mastery, of Schubert’s Rosamunde String Quartet in the same key of A minor; and its finale is somewhat naively based on the main theme of Mozart’s great G minor Piano Quartet. It is difficult to imagine that Dvorák would have wanted this promising, but immature piece ever to see the light of day. (It was first published as late as 1943.)

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The E flat Quintet, Op. 97, was composed more than 30 years later, in the wake of the American Quartet, Op. 96. One of the themes of its fine slow movement was apparently conceived as a setting of ‘My country, ’tis of thee’, though elsewhere the work is imbued, like its more famous companion-piece, with the pentatonic melodies Dvorák heard while in the USA.

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The Vlach Quartet responds to this music very well, and is particularly impressive in the variations of Op. 97, as well as the nostalgic coda of its opening movement. There are times, however, when the Czech players’ approach seems rather safe and sedate: the scherzo of Op. 97 is much lighter and more transparent, at a considerably quicker tempo, in the hands of the Vienna Sextet, whose rumbustious finale also has greater vigour. True, the EMI disc is three times the price of this newcomer, but for your money you also get the genial A major Sextet, Op. 48. Misha Donat