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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Quintet in A major Op. 5 (1872 rev. 1887)
Piano Quintet in A major Op. 81 (1887)
Ivan Klánský (piano)
Vlach Quartet Prague
Recorded Martínek Studios, Prague, November 1999 and June 2000
NAXOS 8.555377 [61.42]


This judicious coupling of the Quintets can be recommended as elegant examples of the Vlach Quartet’s playing, joined as they are by one of the Czech lands’ most able pianists – and one who has shown his ensemble credentials repeatedly as a member of the esteemed Guarneri Trio, Prague. It’s the later work that will demand most investigation and here they can be contrasted with a recent Arco Diva recording of it made by the Wihan Quartet, which I’ve also reviewed. The Vlach, the older quartet, take a more measured, rather more Brahmsian view of Op. 81 and in this respect, certainly in terms of tensile drive and quicksilver emotive states, the Vlach follow more in the musical footsteps of the august Smetana Quartet than do the Wihan. The Wihan’s impetuous drive reminds one much more (at least in the demanding opening movement and the Dumka second) of the pride of Brno, the Janáček Quartet.

It’s also noticeable that the transitional passages are more peaceable in the Vlach and Klánský’s hands – particularly in the first two movements. Though they adhere to a Smetana Quartet tempo the rhythms are pointed sharply enough and the musical argument is kept moving forward enough for it not to seem at all slow – though they are in fact a good minute and a half slower than the Wihan in this movement alone. The individual voices are always of interest in a Czech quartet – whose standards of quartet playing have been deservedly renowned since before even the days of the Bohemian Quartet. Michael Ericsson has a rather nasal cello tone but Petr Verna’s viola blends well with him and their solos are engaging. The Dumka certainly isn’t as youthful or invigorating as the Wihan and Kasík; instead the older group finds a less frenetic easefulness that is part of their own view of the work. Their finale is fractionally more relaxed in intensity once more than the Wihan though their tempo is actually slightly faster. This also tells one about their rhythmic control and accenting which is full of chiming piano (excellent Klánský) and rustic pizzicati.

The much earlier work, revised and dusted down in the same year as Op. 81, has more solid virtues as a creation. It’s in only three movements and adheres to the portentous –lyrical school of central European composition. But the Vlach-Klánský team keep rhythms tight and generate good natural momentum. The highlight of their performance is the Andante sostenuto which emerges as an unsettled, constantly mobile movement – attractively but not over-indulgently expressive. The occasionally somewhat prolix finale goes well though even these fine musicians can’t quite convince one as to its thematic distinction.

One or two bumpy edits, especially in Op. 81, might disturb those listening closely but others will admire the confident control of the Vlach and their probing musicianship which enshrines as authentic a view of the work as the more mercurial and driving Wihan/Kasík pairing.

Jonathan Woolf


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