Cecilia String Quartet’s CD DVORAK reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Since winning the String Quartet competition at Banff in 2010, the Cecilia String Quartet has welcomed a new cellist, Rachel Desoer, and recorded this disc of Dvorak’s music.

Dvorak is continuing testimony that this is an adventurous ensemble, expert and cheerful, expressive and disciplined. The program they have chosen says something about Dvorak that is delightful and informative.

Dvorak compositions are melodic webs woven of threads that blend light emotions with darker matter: “Death Reigns in many a human breast” is the title of the first ‘love song’ of Cypresses B. 152(1887). The melody is an unforgettable appeal, now plaintive, now urgent, pulsing pizzicato from cardiac depths, but never straying from delicacy. The mood of the next song is languorous, only lightly disturbed. The third song is intense, rhapsodic; the fourth pitched low in sadness, the fifth a sprightly dance, and in the sixth the Cecilia conjure an orchestral boisterousness that storms around a pleading voice of the first violin.

Cypresses are the songs of a 23 year old in love (orchestrated for string quartet much later in Dvorak’s life). The String Quartet in G major Opus. 106 is the work of a middle-aged musical lion. Its style is classical, up-mood, dancing with dark accents and swirling forms that celebrate Dvorak’s return to Europe from a residency in America. The Cecilia’s precise intonation allows us to access the flow, variety and unity of the rich musical texture.

They bring deep understanding to the lyrical outpouring of the celebrated adagio that seems to come from Dvorak’s slavic roots, but they maintain with rigour the sonorous alternation of themes. Their playing of the scherzo is both vigorous and charming; the finale soars and glows with unbridled emotional intensity.

The ensemble’s hallmark cheerfulness and sense of fun radiate from the 2 Waltzes, Op. 54 that round out this excellent recording made in the acoustic brightness of Toronto’s Koerner Hall.

If you listen, this music will stay with you.

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