Composers: Dvořák
Compositions: String Quartet No 12, Piano Quintet
Performers: Alexander String Quartet, Joyce Yang p
Catalogue Number: Foghorn Classics FCL2020

Two of Dvořák’s most popular and attractive chamber works are paired here in a release by the excellent San Francisco-based Alexander Quartet on the Foghorn Classics label. The Alexanders – Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz, violins, Paul Yarbrough, viola, and Sandy Wilson, cello – celebrated their 35th anniversary in 2016 and over the past four decades they have established themselves as an elite ensemble in both the old and new repertoires, having commissioned more than 30 works from America’s top composers.

The ensemble gives a warm, finessed and attentive account of the Op. 96 American String Quartet – composed in an extraordinary burst of creativity during a summer in Spillville, Iowa – and are joined by Korean pianist Joyce Yang for the A Major Piano Quintet. Yang, a particularly poetic pianist is one of the five percent of people who experience synaesthesia and sees a landscape of colours when she plays music. She’s also well established as a regular visitor and favourite in Australia.

All the string instruments are modern, made by Francis Kuttner, who studied in Cremona, from original Stradivari models and forms. Yarborough’s husky viola drives the Dvorˇák Quartet from the outset and theirs is natural, earthy and flowing sound which captures the composer’s flood of creative simplicity – the work took just three days to sketch and 15 days to complete, prompting Dvorˇák to remark: “Thank God. It went quickly. I am satisfied.”

The earlier Piano Quintet also finds the Czech composer at his most melodic and inspired, vital and fiery by turns. Yang is a superb fit with the ASQ and although both works have been extensively recorded – though not often on the same disc – the Korean-US line-up makes a very persuasive case for adding this charmer to your collection. The production quality is alive and intimate – you feel you are sitting in the same room with the musicians.

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