Coe Records CD COE 801, 54:52 (Distrib. Koch) ****:
I had the good fortune to breakfast at the Fairmont Hotel with Alexander Schneider, esteemed violinist of the Budapest String Quartet and conductor, in Atlanta, after he had led performances the previous evening of Vivaldi’s A Minor Bassoon Concerto and the Haydn Symphony No. 68. Our conversation proved a bit bizarre: we wound up talking about musical crazies – personalities whose quirks often competed with their ability to make music.
Nothing crazy about this delightful assemblage of Dvorak recorded 1984, a traditional coupling of the two serenades, composed 1875 (Op. 22) and 1878 (Op. 44). The Serenade in E, immortalized on disc by such luminaries as Stokowski and Talich, enjoys a leisurely, warmly resonant reading from Schneider, idiomatic and attentive to the inner voicing that makes Dvorak’s music texturally dreamy. Nice engineering on the COE’s basses, their lingering humanity. The Tempo di Valse is all lilt and melodic extension, lovely, broadly conceived, homogeneous sound. The middle section lingers over its harmonic changes, strings plucked and bowed in beguiling symmetry. A lush approach to the Scherzo, whose middle section froths with a rich upper string vitality, supported by thick textures in the violas and cello. The Larghetto, misterioso, a devotional chant in lingering colors, Dvorak’s attempt at Bruckner. The middle section might remind Dvorak aficianados of one of his Op. 59 Legends. The canonic Finale dances on light feet, tripping figures in deft harmony. Delicate but athletically rendered, Schneider’s version remains a distinguished addition to the catalogue.
The Wind Serenade is Dvorak’s answer to Mozart’s cassations or Krommer’s Harmioniemusik. Only its slow movement is in a major key, yet the work is a happy, outgoing expression of rustic serenity with the world, ending firmly in D Major. Dvorak adds a cello and doublebass to the wind group, a real village band ensemble. The minuet is a Neighbor’s Dance in gurgling thirds for clarinets. The energies later become those of a furiant. Like the Serenade for Strings, the Wind Serenade reveals aspects of Beethoven and Liszt’s cyclicism, alluding to earlier motifs from prior movements. The tender Andante combines Brahmsian elevation of thought with a melos straight out of Italian opera. Lovely oboe work from Douglas Boyd and Mark Pledger. The trio section projects a Wagnerian pulsation. The rousing Allegro molto exploit’s a rising fourth and vigorous dancing; then, a tranquillo section which outlines tunes we have heard prior. High spirits conclude an album all-too-brief in its sunny disposition.
— Gary Lemco