SUK: Serenade for Strings in E–flat Major, Op. 6; DVORAK: Serenade for Strings in E Major, Op. 22; Nocturne in B Major, Op. 40 – Appassionata/ Daniel Myssyk – Fidelio FACD036, 64:05 [Distr. By Naxos] ****:
Appassionata, a Canadian chamber music ensemble of some twenty musicians, has been active since c. 2002 under its founder and conductor Daniel Myssyk. The two most famous Czech string serenades, those by Joseph Suk and Antonin Dvorak, make excellent vehicles for the lush sonority and brilliantly homogeneous tone of this fine ensemble. The Suk Serenade in E-flat Major (1893; rev. 1895) demonstrates the horizontal layering and rich melodic tapestry that the composer imbibed from his father-in-law, Dvorak. Indeed, the Adagio movement communicates that “serene night” quality that defines the term “serenade” etymologically. When I recall that my own introduction to this haunting piece came via the legendary Vaclav Talich, I must recommend this stunning audio document quite favorably, for its sonic splendor as much as for its breathed phrases. The frisky jubilation of the last movement, Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo presto, exudes as much refinement as it does canny metrical co-ordination. Suk’s urge to modal harmony and cyclical construction prefigures much of the later developments in Czech music via Janacek and Martinu. But his own innate lyricism, his delightful counterpoint, and his ability to write instrumental chorale need not apologize to any other musical master.
The 1875 Dvorak Serenade in E ranks high among the great string compositions: its lovely figures even manage to infiltrate a scene in a grim little horror film, X—the Unknown, starring Dean Jagger. Once more, my own initiation to Dvorak’s soulful beauties in this piece came courtesy of Vaclav Talich. Conceived over the course of a mere dozen days, the music flows as naturally as any sparkling pristine brook in an Arcadian setting. After a seamless Moderato opening movement, the ingratiating Waltz increases in beauty upon entering its trio section. We can hear the solid but resonant bass fiddle (Richard Capolla) hold the pulse as the music sways and throbs its meandering course in hypnotic mazy motion. Tender verve marks the Scherzo, with its subtle shifts in meter. The Larghetto, when played with musical sympathy, enjoys that other-worldly beauty on which time tests its teeth in vain. The richly textured phrases and pert attacks in the various string choirs prove infinitely compelling. The Finale: Allegro vivace rounds off a veritable cornucopia of melodic invention superbly rendered in athletically transparent figures of the highest order.
Dvorak’s 1883 Notturno for Strings permits the composer to draw materials from an early string quartet from 1870. Richly chromatic, the opening motif could have been penned by Cesar Franck. The musical evolution that follows could adumbrate Mahler or Florent Schmidt in miniature. The middle section becomes slightly more animated without losing melodic luminosity, coming to a close softly “as if dissipating in the first rays of dawn, to the sound of pizzicatos in the cellos that echo the overarching chords played in the very top registers of the violins.”