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Antonin DVORÁK (1841-1904)
String Quintet in A minor, Op 1 (30.04)
String Quintet in E major Op 97 (35.00)
Vlach Quartet, Prague; Ladislav Kyselak, viola.
rec. 12-13. 4. 97 (Op 97); 30-31. 5. 97 (Op 1), Martinu Studio, Prague
Naxos 8.553376 [65.04]
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Listed Comparison
Stephen Kovacevich, Members of the Berlin Philharmonic Octet (rec. 10/68, 12/72, Johannesstift, Berlin) 462-284-2

The Vlach, with violist Ladislav Kyselak, have come to the quintets after their wonderful traversal of the quartets. These are equally idiomatic readings, swelling with emphases and tremolos that even the distinguished comparison listed above can't reach. The first violin seems particularly winning in this respect. True, they own a slight edginess to their string playing at times in comparison to the Mercedes sound of the Berliners, but make up for it in their opening up of the music. This is particularly welcome in the Schubertian Op. 1 of 1861, still under-appreciated - and astonishingly early. There's real Dvorák filtering through Schubert here, a delightful combination in a composer who in some respects resembled him. And the Op. 97 reminds us that it followed the Op. 96 F major 'American' quartet rapidly.

Where the Berliners score is not simply in their smooth inevitability, or their generally faster tempi (they take a couple of minutes off the above-listed times), but in their packaging; not, I should emphasise, the notes by Keith Anderson, or the presentation. These are, as ever, exemplary, and focus more on the two works in hand than the long essay in small type that Philips present. However Philips shoe-horns five works onto two flat-packed discs, so the outlay is almost comparable. Together with the two quintets listed there's the Op. 7 G major Quintet, the String Sextet in a Op. 48, and the Piano Quintet in A Op. 81. That only leaves the Op. 5 Piano Quintet also in A (Arte Nova have brought these two together, played by Arcus, 74321 34033 2).

These new recordings have more than a digital nerviness to recommend them. Truly idiomatic readings, they add something to these works. One imagines the G major Quintet will appear with the Sextet, and the two Piano Quintets after that. Thus a complete traversal at the same cost as the Philips, with the additional work. Worth the wait.

Simon Jenner

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