Dvorak & Friends - Czech Wind Music
''Dvorak and Friends'' is this record's whimsical title. 'Friends' is pushing it a bit: Krommer (1759-1831) and Myslivecek (1737-81) were both dead before Dvorak was even born (in 1841); but they were compatriots and, as skilled practitioners in the Bohemian tradition of music for wind ensemble, would surely have been friends too if the timing had been right.
The Octet for pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons (placed first) by Mozart's friend Josef Myslivecek, who was born near Prague but spent most of his working life in Italy, where he was known as ''Il divino Boemo'', is a jolly, expertly written piece, notable for its concertante style (including some brilliant cavorting for the two horns in both outer movements). Frantisek Kramar (who features next) was born in Moravia, and after working for some years in Hungary settled in Vienna, where he Germanized his name to Franz Krommer. His many compositions include 13 partitas or suites for wind octet. These were published, either complete or in part, by three different publishers in the early years of the nineteenth century, and as a complete series in Paris about 1825. The one recorded here (for the first time, we are told), was published in 1803, as one of three, Op. 45. The soloistic treatment of the two horns (here superbly played by the redoubtable Charles Kavalovski and Scott Brubaker), both of which have to cover a wide compass reaching different extremes of height and depth, as well as playing together in thirds and sixths, means that it is much more a concerto (as, indeed, it is described in the accompanying booklet), than an ensemble piece. This, however, does not debar the two horns from exchanges with other instruments in the group—a sextet of oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, supported by a string bass.
Less need be said of Dvorak's Serenade in D minor for two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, three horns, cello(s) and double-bass, which dates from 1878. It is one of his most endearing works, combining, in its four move- ments, allusions to the eighteenth-century serenade with warm romanticism and frequent use of Czech dance-forms. As a sort of 'encore' we are given an arrangement of the exuberant Slavonic Dance in C, in the style of a Slavonic kolo, the seventh of Dvorak's second set, published as Op. 72 in 1886 for piano duet and in 1887 for orchestra.
The playing of the New York Harmonie Ensemble, founded by Steven Richman in 1979, is beyond praise: the Krommer 'concerto' is a real find, and I cannot remember hearing a more affectionate and idiomatic account of the Dvorak Serenade. The excellent recording was made during a performance in a church in New York in 1990, but there is not a trace of audience noise.'