Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) | Suite for Strings (1877)
3. Andante con moto
4. Presto – Andante – Presto
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) | Quintet in G Major, Opus 77 (1875)
7. Allegro con fuoco
8. Scherzo (Allegro Vivace) – Trio (Quasi Allegretto)
9. Poco Andante
10. Finale (Allegro Assai)
Josef Suk (1874-1935) | Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale ‘St. Wenceslas’, Opus 35a (1914)
11. Adagio, ma con moto
In June 2017 the members of the St. George Quintet went on a road trip to the Czech Republic. The “road trip” was, in fact, a train trip – with two objectives. First, to talk to people and get to know as much as we could about their relation to their cultural heritage. The second, for the sheer fun of it, to board the aptly named Dvořák Express, the train which connects Prague and Brno, the respective cities of Dvořák and Janáček. The first objective tied in nicely with the second one, as a journey on the train is a great opportunity for a conversation…
We chatted up locals, visited Dvořák’s and Janáček’s houses, danced, sang and drank (delicious!) Moravian wine in a folklore festival. All of this to get as much inspiration as we could before recording the works of these two great composers – but also, with a little help from our friend, the filmmaker Lars Konings, to shoot material which we would later use in concerts, projecting cinematic impressions of our trip between the pieces.
„I have composed too much”, said Dvořák in a conversation with Sibelius towards the end of his life. While he may have had doubts about the relevance of some of his compositions, the string quintet in G major certainly wasn’t one of them. Sparkling joy and humour, with varied and colourful melodies, spirited rhythms and an exceptional sense of contrast, this work is at the same time „the first instrumental work in which he really found his voice” (in the words of Dvořák expert, musicologist David Beveridge). Well known and loved, and a staple of string quintet repertoire, it has not been often recorded despite its popularity.
Another work that found its way onto our newest CD is Janáček’s Suite for strings. If Dvořák’s quintet was a work of a composer who found his voice, in the Suite we can hear that Janáček was still searching. The work has been described as „a ragbag of influences”, among them the Baroque suite, Beethoven, Wagner, Dvořák… As insane as this may sound, John Warrack writes in a Gramophone review: „(…) with Janáček now so firmly established as a major and very popular composer, we can approach these influences with pleasure at how interestingly and attractively he has absorbed them.”
To close the album, we have chosen Josef Suk’s Meditation on an old Czech hymn to St. Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia. It was composed and first performed by Suk and his quartet to counterweight the Austrian national anthem which all public concerts had to begin with during World War I. The original hymn being a prayer for the well-being of the Bohemian people, the patriotic message of Suk’s Meditation must have been clear for the Czech audience. But what has stayed with us a hundred years after the end of the Great War is the subtle and tranquil beauty that this work – a short but profound statement – brings.
All the three composers knew one another: Dvořák and Janáček were good friends and went on long countryside walks together, Suk was Dvořák’s favourite pupil and son-in-law. The following words of Janáček best describe their complicity:
“Do you know what it is like when someone takes the words out of your mouth as you are about to speak them? For me it was always like that in Dvořák’s company. I can interchange his personality with his work: he also took his melodies from my heart. Nothing in the world can destroy such ties.”