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CD Review: The Lyra Quartet
Dvorak, Puccini, Borodin
Judith Cox, violin
Raymond Leung, violin
Tania Maxwell, viola
Nancy Maddox, cello
George Lucktenberg, harmonium


Dvorak: Five Bagatelles, op. 47
Puccini: Elegy (Crisantemi) for String Quartet
Borodin: String Quartet No. 2 in D Major

total time: 51:14
Released in 2001
Review date: January 2002

label: Lyra Classical Recordings (self produced)
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Review by Henry Doktorski:

The famous Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) composed nine symphonies, a piano concerto, a violin concerto, a cello concerto, several overtures and eight string quartets. He also wrote four trios, two quartets and two quintets, all for strings and piano, in addition to eleven operas and four oratorios.

To my knowledge, only one of his works features a free-reed instrument: Five Bagatelles, op. 47 for string trio (two violins, cello and harmonium), and this is the work we are concerned with in this review. In my earlier review of the same work by the Takacs Quartet, (see I already discussed something of the history of the harmonium and Dvorak's use of it in this piece. Here I will simply focus on the Lyra Quartet, George Lucktenberg, and their music-making.

The Lyra Quartet, founded in 1998 and based in Atlanta, Georgia, consists of two members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and two members who are faculty members of Georgia State University and the Georgia Academy, respectively. Members of the quartet have performed throughout the United States, as well as in Hong Kong, Singapore, England and France.

George Lucktenberg, who plays harmonium on this recording, is currently Artist-In-Residence and Adjunct Professor of Music at Reinhardt College in Waleska, Georgia. He holds degrees in piano performance from the University of Illinois and Florida State University.

Luckenberg plays an interesting instrument on this CD: a portable field organ (a compact version of a Victorian and post-Victorian home melodeon) built by Bilhorn Brothers, ca. 1917, for use by the United States Army. These instruments were carried to the front lines for chapel services during World War I.

This portable reed organ is not the customary instrument which we associate with "concert music" for harmonium. It is understandably less equipped with sufficient tonal resources and range necessary for concert works by Sigfrid Karg-Elert, Louis Vierne, Max Reger, Cesar Franck, Camille Saint-Saens, and others. The field harmonium was not designed to play in concert halls; it was meant for accompanying hymns in military camps. It has a limited range of pitch, stops, and dynamics.

Despite all this, Lucktenberg's choice in instruments is a good one for Dvorak's Bagatelles. The music was not really meant for the concert hall, it was meant to be played instead at house concerts, or in salons, where a simpler harmonium might be available. In addition, Dvorak composed a relatively simple part for the harmonium, something an amateur pianist could play without much difficulty. The part itself lends itself to a simple instrument, devoid of great power or sensitivity. Although Dvorak wrote some solo melodic lines for the harmonium in his Bagatelles, for the most part it functions as an accompaniment, supplying the bass and harmonies, while the two violins and cello provide most of the rhythmic and melodic interest.

I found the Lyra Quartet's performance on this CD charming. The strings were bright and sensitive and the harmonium created a consistent sonic background. At times one might not even notice the harmonium, but during the few moments when the harmonium had to tacet, its absence was sorely missed as the string trio actually sounded thin in comparison.

I was very pleased to listen to this CD. The Lyra Quartet and George Lucktenberg, through their performance, have added a bright luster to the shining jewels of Dvorak's Bagatelles recordings.

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