String Quartet No. 14 in A flat major Op.105

Composer: Antonin Dvořák (b. 1841 - d. 1904)
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Composer: Antonin Dvořák (b. 1841 - d. 1904)

Performance date: 27/06/2023

Venue: Bantry House

Composition Year: 1895

Duration: 00:33:15

Recording Engineer: Tom Norton, RTÉ

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Pacifica Quartet (Simin Ganatra, Sibbi Bernhardsson [violins], Masumi Per Rostad [viola], Brandon Vamos [cello]) - [quartet]

String Quartet No. 14 in A flat major Op.105  [1895]

1. Adagio ma non troppo – Allegro appassionato

2. Molto vivace

3. Lento e molto cantabile

4. Allegro non tanto

Dvořák spent some years in America, as head of the new National Conservatory in New York, finally returning home in May 1895.  He brought back with him the first 111 bars of a new Quartet which he had started that March.  Before returning to it he wrote yet another quartet, this time in G major, which became Op.106. Finally he got around to completing the A flat Quartet, finishing the work on December 9th, 1895.   Because of the delay in completing it, the Quartet appeared as Op.105 even though it was to prove to be his last work in quartet form. It was first performed in Prague on October 20th 1896 by the Bohemian Quartet.

The Quartet opens with a grave prelude as the cello announces a sombre phrase which is then repeated by the other instruments, interrupted by rather dissonant chords.  Then suddenly the first violin launches a lively, trilling theme.  This sets the mood for a sparking, wide-ranging movement full of fascinating moments.  The slow opening is recalled occasionally and the mood swings around quite rapidly with fast and slow sequences, as in the Czech folk dance the furiant. At the end, the slow opening theme of the movement is heard once more before the music ends in high spirits.  The scherzo comes second and is one of Dvořák’s finest. It definitely reflects the style of a furiant, mixing double and triple rhythms. The central trio is a charmingly romantic song before the rapid opening sequence is given a brief reprise.

The slow movement is full of tender warmth.  It opens with a soaring, rapturous song, soon richly elaborated upon, until it reaches a full stop and an unexpected moment of silence. The cello then launches a pulsating beat as the upper strings move through some richly chromatic sequences.  The song returns in a faster tempo with pizzicato accompaniment on viola and cello, again the full stop is reached but this time the music fades away gradually into silence. The finale opens with mutterings on the cello taken over by the upper strings who transform the notes into a busy tremolo theme. There is splendid interplay between these simple ideas as the movement develops into a broad-ranging demonstration of Dvořák’s quartet skills as the music dances exuberantly away, culminating in a wild and witty Bohemian coda. 

Ian Fox