Review by Patrick C Waller, Musicweb International, October 2006
 

Jakub Ryba was a prolific Czech composer, particularly of church music. Much of his small-scale output now seems to be lost. Apparently he wrote 72 quartets but only the four works on this disc survive. Vanhal and Mysliveček were known to be influences, along with Haydn and C.P.E. Bach.

The disc alternates two flute quartets with two string quartets and, given the relative paucity of the former in the repertoire, these are likely to be its principal attraction. Mozart's four flute quartets are the best known examples in the genre and amongst his most charming chamber works. These were written about three decades later in 1811. The music falls very easily on the ear, Mozartian grace being much in evidence. Both flute works are in three movements with the C major being the more conventionally structured. The F major quartet begins with an Allegretto full of bird calls, follows with a Hungarian theme and variations and concludes with a sparkling Presto. It demonstrates more thematic originality and provides a good showcase for t he talents of Jan Ostrý and the tonal beauty of his instrument.

Members of the M. Nostitz quartet provide Ostrý with excellent support and the complete ensemble also have two excursions on their own in three movement works lasting less than ten minutes each. Apart from Webern's Op.28, which could hardly be more different, I am struggling to think of full string quartets as short as these. Yet it would be a mistake to dismiss them. The D minor work opens with a heartfelt Adagio, indicating not only that Ryba could write in a profound vein but even looking forward in style half a century or so towards Dvorak's early quartets (which are at the opposite end of the size spectrum). A minuet follows and the concluding movement is a dark-toned scherzo which concludes indeterminately. The A minor quartet is less of the same, an even slighter conception which nevertheless has its moments.

Ryba's music has hardly been represented on disc previously but this CD makes a good case for it. The playing of the Prague-based musicians is consistently warm and stylish, the recording very natural and the documentation good. All round this is a typical Naxos bargain that will probably d elight those who fancy a lucky dip. Fans of Mozart's flute quartets should certainly give this a spin.