DVOŘÁK String Quintet. Sting Sextet
‘I always have the feeling that people don’t admire this piece enough’, said Johannes Brahms of Dvořák’s String Sextet. I’ll second that, and not just on account of the ‘wonderful invention, freshness, and beauty of sound’ that Brahms rightly praised. There’s something irresistible about the liveliness, generosity and sheer warmth of Dvořák’s Sextet. In a word, it’s lovable, a quality it shares with its coupling on this new Harmonia Mundi disc from the Jerusalem Quartet, the String Quintet in E flat.
And these are warm, generous performances. On previous encounters with the Jerusalem Quartet I’ve sometimes felt that the sheer finesse of their playing inhibited their expression. Not here, although the Jerusalems – plus two extremely distinguished guests, Veronika Hagen and Gary Hoffman – certainly take Dvořák seriously. I wondered at first if their approach to the outer movements of the Sextet wasn’t a little too serious, emphasising lyricism and symphonic cohesion at the expense of spontaneity.
But then there are details like the rhythmic bounce they give to the second subject of the Sextet’s first movement and the hushed, wondrous moment of collective stillness they find immediately before the exposition repeat. The disc is full of such moments (they have a lovely way of shading off the end of a phrase, particularly effective in the Quintet’s third-movement Variations); there’s humour as well as sensitivity at work here (savour the crispness of Hagen’s second-viola drumbeat at the start of the Quintet’s Scherzo) and in the Quintet, particularly, there’s always a keen sense of forward momentum. These are beautiful, affectionate performances, captured in lifelike sound, and if there’s any justice they’ll win many new admirers for these glorious but still underrated works.