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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major Op. 81 (1888)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Piano Quintet in E flat major Op. 44 (1842)
Martin Kasík (piano)
Wihan Quartet
Recorded at the Lichtenstein Palace, Prague in April and May 2003
ARCO DIVA UP 0055-2 131 [63.58]

 

These are fresh and exciting performances. If one looks back at those two great Czech groups of the recent past and characterises Wihan and Kasík’s performance of the Dvorak Op. 81 with that of the (new) Vlach Quartet and Ivan Klánský on Naxos (recently released and which I’m also reviewing) I’d say that the Wihan take the direction of the Janáček Quartet whilst the Vlach veer more to the Smetana. The Wihan/Kasík approach is intensely animated and fleet in the opening movement, rippling piano figuration and winningly feminine sounding violin solos adding a fresh air feel. The folk sections are characterised with real gusto and though they bind the incidents together they never do so thoughtlessly. They are brisk, not brusque and never seem rushed. Tension is naturally generated and they manage to propel a youthful animation throughout the span of the work, with a particularly galvanic end to the opening movement. In the Dumka second movement we again hear deliciously sprung rhythm, pizzicato band accompaniment and, praise be, some superbly sly bass pointing from pianist Kasík. It’s ardent as well – and funny. A sparky-verdant Furiant is followed by a well and strongly etched finale (they tend to paint things more viscerally than do the more patrician Vlach) where their accents tend to be rather more incisive than the older group’s as well. So this is a fresh-as-paint reading, animated, youthful, big-hearted and passionate.

I liked their Schumann as well. They are precise over note values whilst bringing some effusive phrasing to bear on the more lyrical moments of this brillante opening movement. As we have seen they have a freshness of approach that is immediately appealing, qualities they demonstrate strongly in the second movement. And in the Scherzo it’s noticeable how they don’t try to over characterise and don’t use too much collective bow pressure. This leads to no loss of direction and there are plenty of opportunities for whimsical voicings; the second trio, the one Mendelssohn suggested Schumann add, works especially well. Strong accents from all five musicians animate the finale as does a well played fugal section – the playing here is not at all leonine, rather it’s cultured and musically balanced and makes a winning effect. So a strong welcome to a nicely annotated and warmly recorded brace of quintets from a genuinely and musically exciting source.

Jonathan Woolf

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