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Cover

ROctet

Novoselye • Housewarming

  • Type CD
  • Label Challenge Classics
  • UPC 0608917282221
  • Catalog number CC 72822
  • Release date 10 January 2020

About the album

Although the standard classical string octet repertoire includes giants such as Mendelssohn and Shostakovich – both of whom were advocates of the rich sound of this combination of instruments – forgotten compositions for string octet are still waiting to be rediscovered in the music archives.  One such work is the rarely performed and, until now, previously unrecorded double quartet Novoselye (House-warming) by the Russian violinist and composer Nikolay Afanasyev (1821-1898). While hardly anyone knows his name today, that in no way detracts from the quality of his music.

The double quartet Novoselye was premiered in St Petersburg in 1886. It is clearly a work by a talented composer with a vast knowledge of string instruments, one who is not averse to a polyphonic style. The composition is especially rich in musical innovation with an abundance of tuneful, folk-like melodies and a hint of melancholy, which lends an unmistakable Russianness to the slow movement. Add to this the vibrant Scherzo, and you have a composition that is festive, high-spirited and virtuosic, as well as melancholic and musically challenging.

The octet was intended as a birthday present for the violinist and conductor Eduard Rietz (1802-1832), who certainly must have prized the virtuoso first violin part. All eight instruments are on an equal footing and work together in perfect harmony. Indeed, were a listener not to know that the work was scored for string octet, he or she might well think of a symphony orchestra. Mendelssohn himself called attention to this sound effect upon publishing this early work in 1832, remarking that all instruments were to play ‘in the style of a symphony’, taking into account all dynamic contrasts. The composer’s nuanced, delicate compositional style and his Romantic, lyrical and tuneful melodies make the octet one of the most frequently performed works of its kind.

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