> Dvorak Piano Works 2 [JW]: Classical Reviews- June 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Works 2

Waltzes op 54
Eclogues op 56
Piano pieces op 52
Moderato in A major B116
Album Leaves B109/2, 109/3, 109/4
Radoslav Kvapil, piano
Recorded Domovina Studios, Prague 1969 and 1970
SUPRAPHON SU 3376-2 111 [70’32]
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Dvořák’s music for piano has an, at best, marginal place in his output. It was occasional, often commissioned, and generally destined for the salon or domestic parlour and not for the concert hall. Since he was a good pianist he would often orchestrate the results for use in the Slavonic Dances, Legends and Waltzes. Some of the music to be heard in Kvapil’s 1969-70 cycle of recordings will be familiar in these guises.

The Waltzes were written for a ball in Prague in 1879. In eight movements, each tripartite, two were later arranged for string quartet – and proved lastingly popular. They are highly animated, and melodically captivating, charming and light, with subtle changes of register and mood. I thought Kvapil’s speed in the first, a Moderato, initially rather too slow for the subsequent quickening but he deliciously hammers the treble with perfectly even finesse in the second of the eight. No 4 is every bit as good as the Slavonic Dances, which it closely resembles, and it’s no surprise that that this was one of the two to be arranged for quartet. I greatly enjoyed No 5’s key modulations and the anticipatory rubato-laden exegesis – its triple structure beautifully and effervescently integrated and delineated with immense skill by Kvapil, who is never guilty of overplaying his hand.

The Virgilian sounding eclogues followed swiftly after the Waltzes but they weren’t published until 1921 and then only on the instigation of Josef Suk. As with the Waltzes Dvořák plundered the music of these essentially private pieces for more obviously public work – and he even reallocated the opus number, op 56, to the cycle of Mazurkas. Self-critical he may have been but he was surely right. The opening piece of the four is rather forced and generic whilst the following Quasi allegretto is insistent, not uninteresting, but equally not melodically distinctive. . The Allegretto will be familiar as he recycled the central panel of the structure rather more colourfully in the Dances.

The Piano Pieces were produced to meet the success of the first series of Slavonic Dances. Dvořák withheld two of the six from publication but all have been recorded here. The cycle is well balanced and covers melodic and rhythmic ground. The Intermezzo which unfolds over a slowly moving bass line is a rather inward and introspective piece with a melodic line which is unusually Classical for Dvořák. The somewhat fractured Eclogue is nevertheless played with requisite limpidity by Kvapil – he is at all times a splendidly astute and sympathetic advocate and possesses the great gift of courageous simplicity. The concluding March is a rather grand, rousing cycle-closing piece. Also recorded are some bottom drawer morceaux, to which the Editors of the Dvořák edition gave the title Album Leafs – pretty, rather Schumannesque - and also a little Moderato.

There is a certain amount of archaeology and resurrection in this disc – not least because Kvapil’s cycle dates from 1969-70 and much was previously unrecorded – and it’s of decidedly occasional use. But so much is deliciously attractive and Kvapil is so infectiously inspiring a pianist that Dvořák admirers will want the disc – if only to correlate the act of Dvořák’s composition to their extended and orchestrated use elsewhere.

Jonathan Woolf

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