Dvořák: String Quartet, Op. 106 - Coleridge-Taylor: Fantasiestücke

Dvořák: String Quartet, Op. 106 - Coleridge-Taylor: Fantasiestücke

Coupling a late masterwork by the great Czech composer Dvořák with a little-known suite by the celebrated Black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is typically inventive programming by the Takács Quartet. Dvořák completed his String Quartet No. 13 in G major, Op. 106 late in 1895, writing on the manuscript score that it was “the first composition after my second return from America.” For the composer, his time in the US as director of New York’s National Conservatory of Music had been a mixed blessing. While he had enjoyed acclaim and written several great works inspired by his time there, he had suffered homesickness and, by 1895, his inspiration was beginning to dry up. With his G major Quartet, his invention returned at full flow, as you can hear in the first movement (“Allegro moderato”) with its unexpected and playful key changes. But in the second movement (“Adagio ma non troppo”) he strikes a new depth of feeling, as Takács’s lead violinist Edward Dusinberre describes: “There’s pain and suffering, and a sense of transcendence and loss. Going home is a complex thing—it’s not all joyful and upbeat.” Coleridge-Taylor, like many British composers near the turn of the 20th century, was very much influenced by Dvořák, which makes the pairing of the Dvořák with his Fantasiestücke, Op. 5 on this album seem quite natural. Yet as Dusinberre points out, it also highlights Coleridge-Taylor’s individual qualities: “Brahms might have been a little bit envious of the way Coleridge-Taylor creates a tremendous richness of sounds without making the texture too dense. It can be quite transparent, and that’s a very hard thing to do in quartets.” Second violinist, Harumi Rhodes, describes the Fantasiestücke as “five beautiful little gems”. As a string quartet, we’re used to playing these 30 to 45-minute works, and so it’s refreshing and fun to be able to sink into these works as individual vignettes, which are almost like poems in the immediacy of their color and character. Yet when you put all five movements together, it’s quite a substantial work of about 20 minutes.” For Rhodes, Coleridge-Taylor’s skill is his ability instantly to conjure an atmosphere: “the first movement is a beautiful example of that. The way it opens, just the very first note the cello plays, immediately your heart stops and you think that you’ve literally entered an incredibly magical space.”

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