Israel's Jerusalem Quartet has made acclaimed recordings of core Classical and Romantic repertory for the Harmonia Mundi label, but they seem to have a special rapport with Dvorak's chamber music. For one thing, they avoid the usual pairings. The composer's String Quintet in E flat major, Op. 97, is often joined to other works of his American period, but how much it gains by standing next to the earlier String Sextet in A major, Op. 48, the work that translated Dvorak's Slavic idiom to larger forms and did much to shape the rest of his career. It is no accident that Brahms admired the Sextet (as outlined in the excellent notes in the CD release by Roman Hinke, recounting Brahms' enthusiastic comment that Dvorak's rejects would serve other composers perfectly well as themes): Despite its Slavic content it is filled in its opening movement with very close motivic work bearing a strong resemblance to that in Brahms' own sextet. The E flat Quintet, by contrast, is freer. All this the Jerusalem Quartet (with violist Veronika Hagen and cellist Gary Hoffman) capture faithfully, clarifying the textures of the Sextet and giving an entirely lovely lyric drama to the E flat Quintet. The opening Allegro has never had such richness and excitement. You could wish for less closely miked sound from Harmonia Mundi, unnecessary in Berlin's Teldex Studio, but that is the end of the list of complaints about this superb Dvorak album.
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