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Sérénades tchéques
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Serenade for Strings in E-flat, Op. 6 (1892) [27:48]
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Serenade for Strings in E, Op. 22 (1875) [28:33]
Notturno for Strings in B-flat, Op. 40 (1882) [7:38]
Appassionata/Daniel Myssyk
rec. Église de la Nativité, La Prairie, Québec
FIDELIO FACD036 [64:05]

Over the last few decades, chamber orchestras have been sprouting up all over. Some - Yuri Bashmet's Moscow Soloists, Vladimir Spivakov's Moscow Virtuosi - are pet projects of established artists. The creation of others is spurred by young conductors with advanced training and limited opportunities. Many such ensembles perform for a season or two, then fade away. Others, like Yuli Turovsky's Musici de Montréal, achieve a higher profile and a continuing concert and recorded presence. During the CD boom of the 1990s, unfortunately, the phenomenon resulted in a lot of thoroughly professional but run-of-the-mill recordings.
 
The Québec-based Appassionata stands out in such a field. Conductor Daniel Myssyk, who founded the orchestra, has assembled for himself a first-class group of players. Unlike many such string ensembles, which content themselves with producing a pleasant but diffuse tone, the Appassionata members project a vibrant sonority, within which each strand is lean and tautly focused. Intonation and tone quality are beyond reproach.
 
The charming Suk Serenade is perhaps an odd fit for this group: "charm" doesn't constitute its main line of territory. The performance is handsomely played and goes with a sure sense of direction; it even brings out the grazioso that Suk prescribes in the second movement. Unexpectedly, I was more impressed by the group's polish and expertise than won over by the muscular reading. It's the normally stolid Münchinger (Decca Eloquence) who's better attuned to the score's Bohemian nostalgia. The long resonance of the recording venue clouds the busier textures, which doesn't help.
 
On that same Decca disc, however, Dvořák's Serenade sounds subpar and under-digested, and in that piece Appassionata scores superbly. Myssyk and his players retain a tensile line while projecting a sense of melodic expansion. Very occasionally, the players fight a bit to maintain momentum, but, as in the Suk, the tempi sound musically apt. Here, among Dvořák's less intricate textures, the ambience doesn't compromise clarity.
 
The Notturno disappointed me. Its overly forward demeanour makes much of it seem too loud and "active". Still, the rocking 6/8 rhythm foreshadows Mahler's discarded Blumine, and a few contained, introspective moments suggest what the artists might have found in the piece after longer preparation.
 
Veteran listeners should know that Fidelio Music, in this incarnation, is a Montréal-based company, with no apparent connection to the Fidelio LP label that featured low-priced Hungaroton reissues.
 
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.