Recorded November, 2004, these happy works find sympathetic and enthusiastic interpreters in Frank Braley and his colleagues, Ensemble Explorations. From the opening of cellist Roel Dieltiens’ motto theme, the fervent and infectious figures pour forth. Dvorak’s excursions into major/minor modalities and folk idioms find supple and balanced integration in these performers, Braley’s piano a restored Concertvleugel Steinway from 1874 whose bright tone packs a bite in its upper register. First violin Christine Busch provides some enchanting figures, especially in the last movement, where she alternates melodic statements with Braley’s keyboard. The middle section of the Allegretto scherzando is gossamer elegance, as per expectation. Braley molds the plastic phrases of the Finale – especially as they change modality prior to the fugato – with sober delicacy. The sonata-form evolution proceeds with buttery silkiness, one gorgeously Slavonic tune after another. The final page exudes that “. . .and so my children” rhetoric that imbues all of Dvorak’s later works, as moral as they are aesthetically perfect.
The 1878 Bagatelles first came to my attention via Rudolf Firkusny and the Juilliard Quartet. The ensemble reflects something of an amateur’s musical status in technique, although a harmonium was a standard salon instrument of the 19th Century. One folk tune, The bagpipers played at Poduba, infiltrates three of the five entries. The tune then becomes fair game for Dvorak’s ability to transform it into a sousedska or polka, according to his lights. The sound of Braley’s harmonium reminds us that the church could easily have been a proper venue for this composition. The third movement, Allegretto scherzando, skitters infectiously in Mendelssohn’s sonorities that burst into suavely intoned Czech hymns. The Andante con moto points to Dvorak’s later Terzetto with its lush textures and autumnal melancholy. The last movement, Poco allegro, has about it something of Schubert’s horseback lieder, which then breaks into a bucolic reverie of nostalgic beauty. A veritable garden of Dvorak delights, this disc.
— Gary Lemco