When you’ve exposed your senses to any kind of art form over a reasonable period, they become trained to identify different styles, be they musical, visual or literary. Without knowing it, and without even trying, we develop an instinct that enables us to assert with confidence, “Sounds very like Beethoven” or “Looks very like a Cézanne”.
Instinct doesn’t always work, of course. Over a few decades of listening to music with my late father, there were, inevitably, times when something tuneful and seemingly ‘recognizable’ would leave us frustrated, probably because the melody appeared to sound like one composer for a few moments, then someone completely different the next.
In time, we soon realized that when such a situation arose, a fairly reliable guess would be Antonin Dvorak, about whom I wrote in September last year. One of 14 children, he was expected to follow in the footsteps of his butcher father: happily he had other ideas, even though he took some persuasion, from the likes of Brahms, to spread his wings away from his birthplace, some twenty miles north of Prague.
In due course his travels would take him to the USA, where classical music hardly featured, and where he can take much credit for its subsequent resurgence in popularity. His ‘New World‘ symphony is now amongst the most frequently played in the repertoire, although you won’t find me posting on that any time soon.
But Dvorak wrote good tunes, and here is one. His Rondo for ‘cello and piano was written in 1891 to show off the skills of the cellist, Hanus Wihan, to whom he later dedicated his ‘cello concerto (lovely, lovely work). If you’d never heard it before, you might easily think it could be by Brahms, for it has much of that man’s nobility; but in the end, you would land up thinking “Mmm…Dvorak, probably”, because it has a playfulness about it which you would struggle to find in the music of Brahms.
Some have said its theme is sad, even morose. Wistful, maybe, but there is nothing overtly sorrowful about it: Dvorak hardly gives the piece time to dwell on sadness and instead skips it along, with a brief diversion to display the virtuosity of the instrument. But the opening tune is never far away. Michaela Fukacova gives a heartfelt, focused and unflashy account, no unnecessary head-tossing or distracting facial expressions here.
It adds up to a few minutes of a very addictive melody. If you listen to it before going to bed, expect to wake up to dididum, dididum, dididum, dididum, dididum, dididum, dididum in the morning.