Dvorak: Cypresses (Versions for tenor & string quartet)

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Somm
ALBUM TITLE: Dvorak – Cypresses
WORKS: Cypresses (Versions for tenor & string quartet)
PERFORMER: Timothy Robinson
Graham Johnson
Delmé Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 236
Dvo?ák’s first song cycle, Cypresses,

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is perhaps the most richly rewarding

of his compositions that survive

from the 1860s, a decade when

hardly anyone in Prague was aware

of his composing activities. The

composer himself said that the cycle

was written by a young man in love

and each song, in intensity and

imagination, goes well beyond the

disappointingly sentimental verse

on which it is based. Every one of

the 18 songs has its rewards, but the

third and fifth are outstanding, the

latter assaying a melodic line that

looks forward to mature Janá?ek

underpinned by harmonies that

could be by Debussy in the 1890s.

Little wonder that Dvo?ák mined this

rich vein of melody for later scores,

such as the opera Vanda, and other

song cycles from his maturity.

When reviewing his early works

for possible publication, over 20

years later in 1887, Dvo?ák made an

arrangement of 12 of the songs for

string quartet, in the process of which

he ironed out certain infelicities in

the accompaniment though without

compromising the freshness of the

originals. The Delmé Quartet’s

recording is one of the most sweetly

intense and reflective available,

quite comparable to the Vlach

Quartet’s excellent performance

on Naxos. Timothy Robinson is

an eloquent advocate for the songs

and for the most part negotiates the

Czech creditably. Magnificently

accompanied by Graham Johnson,

and resonantly recorded, Robinson

brings genuine passion to each of the

songs, although I could have done

with rather more variety of tone.

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Jan Smaczny