PERFORMERS: Nikita Borisoglebsky
(violin) Valery Sokolov
(violin) Alexander Akimov
(viola) Andrei Usov
(viola) Narek Hakhnazaryan
(cello) Alexandre Bouzlov
(cello) Philipp Kopachevsky
Piano Quintet No 2 in A Major, Op. 81
The string sextet Souvenir de Florence in D Minor, Op. 70
Antonín Dvořák composed a vast amount of chamber music – he wrote as many as fourteen string quartets, while he produced two piano quintets, moreover both in A Major. The first (Op. 5) was written in 1872 and the second (Op. 81) fifteen years later between August and October 1887, when Dvořák truly felt himself to be an acclaimed maestro and, which is even more important, a master of the national style.
The first movement of the Quintet Op. 81 begins deceitfully, as if it were a romance for cello and piano. This impression fades very quickly indeed. Regardless of the “correct” sonata form, this movement is full of surprises and even appears to be somewhat chaotic. Dvořák tries to surprise his audience, introducing new themes and new styles (such as the secondary theme, in the spirit of Brahms).
On the other hand, the three other movements are very integral and very Czech in terms of style. The second movement is a meditation with typical Slavonic lyricism. It is one of the most lengthy and carefully developed meditations in the entire brief history of the genre. In the third movement Dvořák transforms the traditional scherzo into a furiant. Or the reverse: he transforms a furiant into a scherzo, radically simplifying the rhythm of this Czech dance. The music of the finale also has a vividly expressed national character and is extremely remote from the world’s problems.
The string sextet Souvenir de Florence was written by Tchaikovsky in the summer of 1890 on his return from Italy where he had been working on The Queen of Spades with tremendous enthusiasm.
The title does not indicate the creation of “local colour”. This memory concerns not so much the city itself as the time that Tchaikovsky spent there and the frame of mind he was in. One of the musical themes of the sextet, at least, was born during the composer’s sojourn in Florence.
The sextet was conceived much earlier, back in 1887, when Tchaikovsky had given a promise to dedicate a new work to the St Petersburg Society of Chamber Music which was headed by Karl Albrecht. The composer resolved to try his hand in this genre, new to him, halfway between chamber and orchestral music. Although he was already at the height of his fame, he approached this new and complicated task as a student. “You see, this is my first experience of expanding beyond the confines of a quartet,” he wrote modestly to Albrecht. Initially organising a private hearing, Tchaikovsky took a further two years to develop the work before giving his agreement for the official premiere and the work’s publication.