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String Sextet in A major, Op 48
May 1878

'Dvořák: String Quintet & String Sextet' (CDH55405)
Dvořák: String Quintet & String Sextet
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Movement 1: Allegro moderato
Track 5 on CDH55405 [13'54] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 2: Dumka 'Elegie': Poco allegretto
Track 6 on CDH55405 [6'47] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 3: Furiant: Presto
Track 7 on CDH55405 [4'10] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 23 on HYP12 [4'10] Super-budget price sampler — Deleted
Movement 4: Finale 'Tema con variazioni': Allegretto grazioso, quasi andantino
Track 8 on CDH55405 [7'52] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

String Sextet in A major, Op 48
Written in a two-week period in May 1878, the String Sextet was composed soon after the enormously successful Slavonic Dances and, in the summer of the following year, it was performed at the Berlin home of Joachim at a soirée in honour of the Czech composer. The reception accorded Dvorák’s music by a distinguished audience was an experience he was long to remember.

Full of spontaneous invention in the manner of Schubert, the Sextet’s themes have been described as ‘flowing with Slavonic blood’. They are delightfully deployed in the course of the first movement and well contrasted, the second subject being in the mediant. There is but a short development section before the recapitulation which is in F sharp instead of the tonic key.

To describe the second movement Dvorák uses the Russian term ‘Dumka’, an indication of the employment of strongly contrasted sections, sometimes very sad and sometimes happy. Over a steady march-like rhythm Dvorák’s asymmetrical phrase structure assists in making this one of the composer’s most interestingly novel movements, incorporating slow gypsy music and a tender lullaby. A return to the rhapsodizing gypsies is made in the coda.

Although called ‘Furiant’, the following movement has none of the characteristic cross-rhythmic effects associated with this type of music. It is a vigorous scherzo which includes in its trio section an allusion to the first Slavonic Dance.

The last movement consists of five variations and stretta on a B minor theme which in truth seem not to have the spontaneity of the accompanying movements. The conclusion of the work is rather too boisterous and perhaps prolongs its leave-taking to its disadvantage.

from notes by Peter Lamb © 1988

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