DVORAK: Love Songs, Op. 83; 5 Cypresses for String Quartet; Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81 – Adriana Kucerova, soprano/ Quatour Thymos/ Christoph Eschenbach, piano – Avie

by | Jan 18, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

DVORAK: Love Songs, Op. 83; 5 Cypresses for String Quartet; Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81 – Adriana Kucerova, soprano/ Quatour Thymos/ Christoph Eschenbach, piano – Avie AV2234, 74:56 [Distr. By Allegro] *****:
Christoph Eschenbach (b. 1940) turns to the music of Dvorak, especially the composer’s lyric outpourings based on songs he wrote in his unrequited love for Josefina Cermakova based on poems by Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky called “Cypresses.” The melodies Dvorak conceived became a kind of reference notebook from which he could borrow and evolve later compositions. Dvorak would eventually rework his early sketches, particularly revising twelve of his original eighteen songs for string quartet in 1887. The ensemble Thymos Quartet (estab. 2003) offers five of these arrangements, which masterfully score a single melodic line to one instrument with augmented accompaniments and balanced textures.
Among the five quartet settings, the No. 2 “In many a heart death dwells” resonates with a minor-key sense of fate we already know from Schubert’s D Minor Quartet “Death and the Maiden.” The No. 8, ‘In the woods by the stream,” combines a bucolic scene from nature with Silenus’ wisdom that man would have been better off not to have been born. No. 9, “Oh, you, my soul’s only dear one,” literally captures the notion of an almost motionless swan-song, the viola (Nicolas Carles) especially resonant. No. 11, “Over the landscape ruled by carefree dreams,” resounds with thoughts similar to Mahler’s “Wayfarer” cycle, that Nature in May abounds with life and promise while the persona’s heart stands barren. The first violin (Gabriel Richard) plays the concertante solo with liquid delicacy.
The opening song from the set of eight, Op. 83, “Ah, our love does not blossom,” sets the tone of frustrated happiness, self-conscious of parting too strong for the passions to endure. Adriana Kucerova’s light, flexible soprano conveys tender sympathy for the lovers’ ever-hovering sense of mortality. Kucerova and Eschenbach take No. 2 very slowly, the reigning sentiment appearing to be that “in the midst of love we are in death.” The piano accompaniment so clearly derives from Schubert that it declares Dvorak either a disciple or an epigone.  No. 3, “I linger by the house of my beloved,” combines a polka rhythm with strains virtually lifted from the little F Minor Moment musical of Schubert. “I know, with sweet hope,” No. 4, again expresses the sentiment that in spite our fond sincerity, intimations of mortality and thwarted love hover above.  No. 5 is the aforementioned No. 11 in the string quartet cycle. No. 6, which is No. 8 in the quartet version, achieves real passion when Kucerova sings of the “stone beneath the waves” that rises and falls with the ineluctable forces of Nature. No. 7, “By the power of your eyes,” expresses a conceit John Donne would cherish: that the beloved can kill and resurrect the lover at will, what another poet set as “Dying of life, a lover gasps for breath/From one whose lips graft on a sweeter death.” The swan-song of No. 8 (or 9 in the string quartet version) asks Eschenbach to suggest the lake beneath the gliding swan of the lover’s soul with limpid translucence, an illumination of love and death, the ultimate Romantics’ conceit.
The eternally gorgeous Piano Quintet in A Major (1887) combines Germanic sonata-form with absolutely seamless Bohemian melos and rhythmic urgency, the scoring a miracle of balanced ensemble. The lessons of Schubert have by this time been well absorbed, including the scoring of the viola’s secondary theme of the opening Allegro ma non tanto in the relative minor instead of the dominant. Lithe finesse marks the entire first movement, a liquid realization in wonderful colors, particularly those drawn by viola, first violin, and piano. The resonance of Marie Leclercq’s cello must accept our acknowledgement as well. The shifting moods and driven rhythmic energies culminate in a virtual hymn to the Bohemian spirit, a kind of march that lives in a temenos between Schumann and Mahler. The ensemble’s approach to the F-sharp Minor Dumka proves distinctly broad, the originally Ukrainian dance’s taking on a distinct Slavic melancholy that the viola burns into our memory. The more agitated sections in D Major offer a polar foil in manically exuberant tones. The pep injected by second violin Eiichi Chijiiwa strikes us here and again the fugato of the Finale: Allegro, energies well received.
The magical Furiant and its ephemerally lovely trio section move with crystalline grace, the viola and piano in limpid sympathy. The trio achieves the illusion of a glorified stasis, the keyboard’s soft-pedaled chords a haloed cushion of Milton’s aerial vapors over a beguiled earth. The Finale proclaims itself a dervish-spirited polka in all but name, a manic scherzo that eventually assumes more Germanic leanings in counterpoint likely inspired by Schumann’s essay in piano quintet form. The kindred musical spirits, Eschenbach and his talented string players, bring to a resounding close the coda, a fitting moment of Slavic heraldry for an album (rec. 25 March – 9 May 2011) already nominated for the 2012 Best of the Year List.
—Gary Lemco

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