Schubert sonatas

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Piano solo and duet
  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
The Complete Concertos

Piano Concerto in G minor Op. 33 (1876) [38:31]
Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 53 (1879) [32:07]
Cello Concerto in B minor Op. 104 (1895) [39:06]
Silent woods for cello and orchestra (1891) [5:23]
Rondo in G minor for cello and orchestra (1891) [7:20]
Jitka Čechová (piano)

Jana Nováková (violin)
Jan Páleníček (cello)
Moravian Philharmonic Olomouc/Stanislav Vavřínek

rec. Olomouc, Czech Republic, November 2004
CUBE BOHEMIA CBCD 2426 [70:54 + 52:03]

Complete sets of the Dvořák concertos are not numerous. In fact at this moment I cannot think of another. This is presumably down to the widely disseminated ‘wisdom’ that the Piano Concerto is a flop. Certainly there is room for such a set. This one howe
ver is good rather than outstanding. It is at bargain price so not a great deal is in hazard. The design decisions are good. The text is legible and there are some great session photographs. Altogether the production proclaims a thoughtful approach and good judgement. The two discs can be purchased separately and each comes in its own jewel case with the two cases slid into a hard card sleeve. Shame that a compact single width double case could not have been used.

The Piano Concerto is one of those works that plays best when treated as another Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1. That’s the way I learnt it from a broadcast tape of Rudolf Firkusny with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Karel Ančerl. This however is more smooth and contemplative and when it becomes more dramatic it reminded me of another favourite work, the Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto. The strings are sweet enough but become rather scrawny-toned when the pressure is on. One the other hand Čechová gives what may be the work’s most poetic interpretation ever. Although things fly along in the finale this lacks the tawny fire we might have had from Serkin had he tackled the work. The stereo spread is open and full of spatial detailing. The Violin Concerto seems orchestrally torpid when it should be more vehemently flammable. Predictably the middle movement works better under this regime and the finale recaptures the necessary fire. I was not very taken with Nováková’s vibrato although she is recorded very sympathetically indeed. All these recordings ring out in a resonant and very agreeable acoustic. It is entirely predictable that Vavřínek will treat the Cello Concerto in the same way as the other two concertos. There is some passion but overall this is another poetically softened reading when my preference runs to the sort of nobility and heat we hear in the Sony recording with Leonard Rose and Ormandy. Not wanting to be too negative I must mention that the orchestral contribution glows and shines: listen to the sweet-toned and steady as a rock French horn solo in the first movement. Also a good sampling point is the start of the finale which stalks in exactly as it should, tense yet yielding. Páleníček excellent elsewhere loses some definition at the very start and does not burn with ardour. On the other hand who cares when he duets with the solo clarinet at 3:00 onwards. As might be expected what can seem a demerit in emotionally mercurial works can be a virtue where the work is predominantly a reflective soliloquy as is the case with Silent Woods. The Rondo could do with mercury’s wings to get it to fly; still, in these hands, it remains companionable enough.

Not a library recommendation but there are many strengths here including an over-arching poetic and thoughtful temperament presumably imparted by Vavřínek. It’s not the whole picture but there is much that is very likeable indeed.

Rob Barnett



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