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Laura Rónai
Fanfare, June 2007

"Fortunately for us, Jan Ostrý and the M. Nostitz Quartet have decided to give [these small gems] a new lease on life. They do so with complete conviction and the happy disposition that is so fitting for the music. Each phrase is caressed with loving grace. Even though he is portrayed with a silver instrument inside the CD's booklet, the flutist's instrument has a woody tone, relaxed and liquid, as it should be. The sound is never pushed, metallic, nor brilliant for the sake of being brilliant. Ostrý plays with verve, and is obviously having a great time with his part. The strings share his mood, and provide an equally beautiful framework for his flights of imagination. The alternation between string and flute quartets works perfectly, and one setting serves to rest the ears from the other, creating a pleasing balance."

"It is not everyday that one gets to hear music that one has never heard before—music that immediately captures the ear and makes one sing inside. Even rarer is the opportunity to witness a little­known composer receiving such royal treatment from a group of top-notch musicians."

David Blomenberg
MusicWeb International, May 2007

Based on family experience as well as other accounts, holding down the positions of parish organist and teacher is often fraught with heartache. Such is the case with the composer of the quite enjoyable pieces we have here. There is some detailed information available on the Internet regarding Ryba’s life, but unfortunately, it all appears to be in Czech, so I am reliant on the more general information available in English, including Keith Anderson’s helpful liner-notes.

Ryba was born near Plzen to a schoolmaster. Sometimes more out of necessity than desire, teaching was a profession that followed Ryba throughout his abbreviated life. He found he could capitalize on his keyboard skills and played organ for a number of churches. His time in teaching and playing wasn’t entirely placid—he occasionally fell into conflicts with the Pastor or the school’s administration, which did on one occasion get him fired. Reasons for his suicide differ, but his chronically dismal finances and friction with antagonistic higher-ups were certainly contributing factors.

Sadly, an immense amount of Ryba’s music does not survive. The notes indicate that he wrote ninety Masses and seven Requiems in addition to over one hundred other works. This disc holds the only remaining quartets out of over seventy that were listed at one time. What we have in this recording shows quite a bit of charm - as well as the mark of Haydn’s chamber music. The pieces here also remind me of a recording I reviewed for this website a while ago - the works of a contemporary composer Franciszek Lessel - who shows a similar influence of Haydn and C.P.E. Bach. Ryba’s works - at least those on this disc - are of a smaller scale, but hold similar appeal.

This is the second disc of Ryba’s works to come from Naxos. The other includes his most famous work — still performed during the Christmas season in the region in which Ryba lived and worked — a Christmas mass, along with a shorter mass, the Missa Pastoralis, found on Naxos 8.554428. This music is certainly a pleasure to listen to. Of the works here, the flute quartets are each, respectively, twice as long as the string quartets that follow. Opening the disc is a flute quartet in C, as sunny as its key would traditionally indicate. The lines here, as with all of the pieces on this disc, are clean and elegantly proportioned. Enthusiasts of Haydn’s chamber music should take note. The majority of the brief Andante gives the melodic line to the flute as the rest of the ensemble provides pizzicato accompaniment before the rondo Finale brings us to a rollicking close. A refreshing piece overall.

What the string quartets lack in length is made up for in their gravity. Both pieces begin with slow movements. The A minor quartet’s opening Andante poco adagio has a tightly-constructed contrapuntalism which gives a general impression of being backward-looking to earlier styles, and ends just as things get interesting. The following Menuetto brings us more up-to-date and holds interest, but again feels rather abbreviated. The ending movement is lovely; syncopated to throw things a touch off-kilter.

The Flute Quartet in F, from its first notes, places us in a forest scene, with brief interjections of birdcalls, which are tossed back and forth amongst the members of the ensemble. The central movement is a set of variations on a Hungarian folk tune, which give prominence to each of the instruments, alternating with the flute. The movement has charm but is no grand new approach to variation movements. Overall, the piece is sunny and gregarious, especially the triple-meter finale.

Flautist Jan Ostrý and the M. Nostitz Quartet are quite well-balanced, with no tendency for the brightness of the flute to overpower. The sound and ambient presence of the recording are warm and distant enough to allow for a sense of space without losing definition. I certainly would recommend this for any fans of Haydn’s chamber music.

American Record Guide, February 2007

Jakub Jan Ryba (1765-1815) was a prolific Czech composer, but only a few of his works have survived. At one time he had 72 quartets listed, but only these four are extant. He wrote a huge quantity of church music including 90 masses and seven requiems plus hundreds of graduals, motets, and other works. He also wrote widely in instrumental and orchestra fields, though most of that is also lost. Anyone who knows Ryba's Czech Christmas Mass will need no further encouragement to obtain this.

Son of a teacher, he had good musical training. Much of his life was spent as a teacher in Rozmital from 1788 until he committed suicide in 1815.

His two surviving flute quartets were written in 1811. They are really quite splendid and imaginative. The second imitates bird calls in the opening movement. Both of his surviving string quartets are from 1801 and are just as polished as the flute quartets. The second shows many similarities to Mozart's Dissonant Quartet.

Naxos wisely alternates between the two forms. Both Jan Ostry and the Nostitz Quartet came on the musical scene in the 1990s and are musically excellent, as one might expect from graduates of the Czech Academy of music. The recording is rich and full and gives the instrumentalists well-balanced exposure. The notes are excellent.

Considering the bargain price, you can't afford to pass this up.

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 Myslivecek 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 the 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 delight those who fancy a lucky dip. Fans of Mozart’s flute quartets should certainly give this a spin.

Giv Cornfield, Ph.D.
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, October 2006

In the mid-1960s, there appeared on the Czech import label Supraphon an LP recording of Ryba's 'Czech Christmas Mass'. Although it was not yet the holiday season, I scheduled it for broadcast by the good music radio station where I worked (yes, Virginia: Once upon a time, long ago, there were many such stations). Listener response was overwhelming, and during the holiday season, we could not schedule it often enough. There is a refreshing naivete and purity of musical thought that is very appealing in the works of Ryba. He may be 'derivative' - if you like - sounding like anyone not in the top rank of composers of the Haydn-Mozart era, but so what? This Disc is simply a delightful divertissement.

Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, October 2006

This is a lovely recording of two flute quartets and two string quartets by the prolific Czech composer Jakub Jan Ryba, who is known today mainly (when he is known at all) for his religious vocal music. Most of his instrumental compositions have been lost, so this collection of chamber works is especially welcome, especially in such attractive performances (on modern instruments). Highly recommended to all classical collections.

Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, October 2006

This is a lovely recording of two flute quartets and two string quartets by the prolific Czech composer Jakub Jan Ryba, who is known today mainly (when he is known at all) for his religious vocal music. Most of his instrumental compositions have been lost, so this collection of chamber works is especially welcome, especially in such attractive performances (on modern instruments). Highly recommended to all classical collections.

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