String Quintet in A minor, Op 1 (30.04)
String Quintet in E major Op 97 (35.00)
Vlach Quartet, Prague; Ladislav
rec. 12-13. 4. 97 (Op 97); 30-31. 5. 97 (Op 1), Martinu Studio, Prague
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.