DVORAK: Serenades from Bohemia = Piano Octet, Serenades for strings and woodwinds – Czech Nonet/ Ivan Klansky (p.) / Pavel Huela, Vladimir Klansky (vlns.)/ Academy of St-Martin/Marriner – Praga Digitals

DVORAK: Serenades from Bohemia = Piano Octet-Serenade in E, B. 36; Serenade for Strings in E Major, Op. 22; Serenade in d minor for Woodwinds (arr. Nonet), Op. 44 – Czech Nonet/ Ivan Klansky, piano/ Pavel Huela and Vladimir Klansky, vioins/ Academy of St-Martin-in-the-Fields/ Neville Marriner – Praga Digitals PRD 250 371, 77:21 (4/17/17) [Distr. Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****: 

¯The dancing spirit of Bohemia’s native son Dvorak infiltrates this collection of chamber pieces.

Much in the tradition of Mozart and his serenades, divertimentos and cassations, Dvorak conceived his Op. 22 Serenade in an “outdoor” style. English musicologist Nicholas Ingman helped to unearth the 1873 version (rec. September 1998) of the String Serenade in the form of a piano-based Octet, the piano and the double bass here serving in a melodic capacity in the absence of a cello part. The strong presence of the bassoon (Pevel Langpaul), clarinet (Ales Hustoles), and French horn (Vladimira Klanska) contribute to the feeling of Nachtmusik, an evening’s love song rendered by an ensemble of musical equals. With the addition of the winds, along with the deep grumblings of the double bass and keyboard’s active treble, the Scherzo movement, for instance, achieves a sense of contrast that retains an intimacy the strings-only version lacks. At the central core stands the A Major Larghetto, a tender nocturne announced by the solo piano (Ivan Klansky), then in concert with the first violin (Pavel Huela). The addition of the cello (Simona Hecova) converts the slow movement into a lovely trio, inviting the clarinet, French horn, oboe, bassoon, and bass to join them. Most of Dvorak’s counterpoint takes the form of tightly-knit canons, and they infiltrate the energetic Finale: Allegro vivace. The French horn adds a decisive “hunt” sensibility to the playful intercourse of two themes, the second set a fifth higher, staccato. The bassoon’s mutterings with the clarinet, invoke the theme of the Larghetto in the piano. By the coda, the original theme of the first movement reappears, a testament to the organic unity Dvorak had imposed upon this work, which he would revise in 1875 into the string form we generally celebrate.

Neville Marriner leads a November 1965 performance of the “definitive” version of the Op. 22 Serenade for Strings. The gentle pacing of the opening Moderato movement captures its various nuances in harmony and  in cross rhythms with an air of delicate nobility, much in the manner of the esteemed reading by Vaclav Talich. An occasional mazurka rhythm manages to inhabit the luxurious Tempo di valse and its easy, swaying lilt. Dvorak’s modal sense of harmony informs the passionate, contrapuntal Scherzo: Vivace movement. Marriner moves this movement with a clear intent to showcase the St.Martins’ virtuoso capacities. The Larghetto in the realization might stand as a prayer in the manner of one of Tchaikovsky’s suites of the Grieg Holberg. Having heard the setting that includes the wind instruments, I miss in this poised treatment some of the flamboyance of the other version. The Finale maintains an aroused energy throughout, especially in the way Marriner effects the antiphons among the string choirs.

The Czech Nonet, founded in 1924, originally comprised members of the Prague Conservatory who adhered to an aesthetic established by Louis Spohr. They perform (in November 1998) an arrangement of Dvorak’s d minor Wind Serenade, Op. 44 by Frantisek Hertl. The opening Menuetto quasi Marcia rather whistles and struts forth, the winds piping and the deep cello’s sounding forth a pompous bass voice echoed in the bassoon. The addition of string voices aligns the music even more to the Mozart cassation model. The Menuetto follows a Slavonic pattern of a sousedska, close to a waltz as cross-fertilized by a laendler, a true “outdoor” sensibility. An ardent love song, the Andante con moto, set in A Major, features the clarinet in perpetual melody against a syncopated environment. The pictorial work of Breughel infuses the last movement Allegro in D, a rustic festive dance, visited by a passing polka or two.  A most happy affair, this disc, featuring music by a composer who never knew a false note.

—Gary Lemco

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