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.
11Double String Quartet in D Major Novoselye • Housewarming (1875) Allegro moderato
12Double String Quartet in D Major Novoselye • Housewarming (1875) Scherzo. Allegro vivace
13Double String Quartet in D Major Novoselye • Housewarming (1875) Andante sostenuto
14Double String Quartet in D Major Novoselye • Housewarming (1875) Allegro non troppo
15Two Pieces for String Octet Op.11 Prelude
16Two Pieces for String Octet Op.11 Scherzo
17Octet in E fl at Major Op.20 Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
18Octet in E fl at Major Op.20 Andante
19Octet in E fl at Major Op.20 Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo
110Octet in E fl at Major Op.20 Presto