String Quartet No. 14 in A-flat Op. 105, B. 193 : I : Adagio ma non troppo - Allegro
Yeah, we all know how it goes. Composers have their big pieces and we all forget they wrote other things. Hell, I bet lots of people think Barber’s Adagio for Strings is a stand alone piece rather than just the slow movement from his string quartet (if this happens to be you, don’t take offense. i thought the same thing once).
Anyway, I fell into a similar trap with Dvorak. Not with the symphonies, mind you…which i feel is where most people are. They know the new world symphony and the first 8 are forgotten (if this happens to be you, check out symphony 7…it is excellent). I did it with the string quartets. Early in college, I checked out the Emerson String Quartet’s CD of Dvorak/Tchaikovsky/Borodin…which probably are the 3 most well known string quartets, if you discount Schubert’s Death and a Maiden. I fell in love with Dvorak’s 12th (nicknamed American) on first listen, not just because ESQ produces some of the best recordings i own, but also because of the bright character, songful melodies…and that outstanding final movement. it may be overplayed, but it is still wonderfully crafted.
So i recently downloaded Prager Steichquartett’s collection of Dvorak quartets they made for DG since it was about time i experienced the rest of it. I am still working my way through them but I liked the last one he wrote so much i decided i should share it. No. 14 is in A-flat major, which no string player can say “i like playing in this key” with a straight face…but with that aside its a pleasure to listen to.
It doesn’t have the same graceful melodic writing of the American quartet or the F minor piano trio (<—OUTSTANDING PIECE OF MUSIC) or the immediate curb appeal of some of his other music. Its fringe movements open in darkness (low cello solos), the second movement makes extensive use of polyrhythms (sim. Slavonic Dance 8) and overall the dissonances are more stressed and last longer when they occur. The first movement has a great deal of tempo changes in it, something the Prager SQ uses to great artistic effect that other recordings i checked seem to avoid.
One of my favorite moments is the end of the first movement, which makes me think of the writing Mahler ends the first movement of his 4th symphony with. An adagio passage comes to a close and the dissonance resolves into the melody of the allegro theme, at adagio tempo, with the marking “poco a poco pin animato” to a “vivo” 4 bars later. Its a great effect and an ending that’s hard not to enjoy. Hope you enjoy it as much as I have.