DOHNÁNYI Serenade. String Quartet No 3. Sextet (Nash Ensemble)
The Nash Ensemble dig into Dohnányi’s Serenade (1902) with gusto, relishing the music’s myriad felicities. If they don’t quite match the exhilarating élan of the 1941 RCA account with Heifetz, Primrose and Feuermann (RCA, 4/43) – no recording has, as of yet – their performance is rife with character and incident, and absolutely riveting in its own right. I love the theatrical way they sigh and sob at 2'00" in the fourth movement, for example. And in the rambunctious finale, especially, their playing conveys a frisson that’s unusual for a studio recording.
The Nash’s performance of the Third String Quartet (1926) is more impressive still. Right from the first surging phrase – which froths and spits like a crashing wave – they grasp the emotional meaning of the composer’s agitato e appassionato directive. At times their playing feels almost desperate in its intensity, yet they can be powerfully seductive, too, as in the sinuous, conspicuously Debussian second theme – and particularly its return at 7'33". The central Adagio religioso is as sleek as the opening Allegro is tumultuous – in my mind evoking glossy, candlelit marble – yet also contains passages that suggest acute internal turmoil. The brief finale is arguably less inspired than the preceding movements but the Nash make the best of it, balancing hearty jocularity and athletic grace.
I’ve listened often and with pleasure to the Ensemble Kheops’s fascinatingly edgy, Modernist take on the 1935 Sextet (Fuga Libera, 1/12). The Nash, by contrast, seize upon the score’s unabashed Straussian sensuality and the result is simply irresistible. Indeed, in their hands there’s something distinctly – and quite magically – Ariadne-esque about the music’s play of humour and seriousness, light and shade (not to mention the occasional suggestion of the harmonium in the writing for clarinet and lower strings). It’s a gloriously overripe, at times rapturous interpretation, and I’m smitten by it.
If you’ve never taken to Dohnányi’s music before, these performances should win you over. If you’re already a convert, you’ll want this.