I think quite a few people will have noted that Alto has good
instincts for reissuing material that might not have seen the
light of day in a long while. If the mark of a good product is
a reviewer putting his hand in his pocket and slapping down some
hard earned cash on the desk then I can attest to having done
so for a number of Alto’s discs.
This one has an
interesting provenance. It was first issued on Accord 20682
back in 1999. It’s played on Dvořák’s own 1879 Bösendorfer
and that’s what gives extra spice to the recital for Kvapil,
as we all know, has been a great servant of the composer’s piano
music for many years and has recorded two substantially complete
cycles, the Old Testament and the New, the earlier dating from
1967-69 and the later in digital, both for Supraphon. His 1993-96
Unicorn-Kanchana Anthology of Czech Piano Music volumes
also contained works by the composer. To the question as to
whether one can have a surfeit of Dvořák-Kvapil I happily
The recording was
made at Hluboš Castle. In typically swanky style I have elaborated
exactly where in the castle for reasons that are actually quite
important. Hluboš Castle is in central Bohemia, roughly half
way between Prague and Plzeň, and is late baroque but with
plenty of late nineteenth century accretions. It was T.G. Masaryk’s
summer mansion after the First World War and – and here is the
important bit for mere music lovers – the Great Hall has superb
acoustics. So if you ever find yourself near Přibram,
as doubtless you will one of these rainy days, drop in.
The programme is
a representative one. Kvapil plays the Humoresques, including
those that were sketches for the projected Hiawatha, with great
verve and élan. The dainty warmth of No.2 is a feature as are
the mellow middle voicings in No.4, the lovely Poco andante.
No.7 is the Humoresque but how seldom it’s
heard in the original piano version as opposed to its violinistic
incarnation. He rounds the cycle off with great gusto with
No.8. The American Suite is notable in this performance for
the finely nuanced B section of the molto vivace second
movement as well as by the good taste he shows throughout. The
Op.12 Dumka and Furiant makes a good contrast and functions
as a preface for the Op.8 Silhouettes. These little pieces show
how maturely Kvapil approaches the repertoire and how richly
he characterises them without inflating their status beyond
In respect of this
last point it’s valuable to consider how the use of the composer’s
own piano has led to decision making in these performances.
The pitch is 435 double vibrations, so slightly lower than today’s
pitch, and its timbral qualities are warmer and mellower than
we are used to hearing in contemporary Dvořák performances.
It’s particularly noticeable that colouristically and dynamically
there is a gain in intimacy, as there is also in the immediacy
of dynamic gradients. You won’t find pedal wash or forcing through
the tone in these rich and fluent performances.
As to whether the
cachet of hearing Kvapil playing on the composer’s own piano
is enough to tempt one to buy – especially given the existence
of those two near-full cycles – I think that’s a question best
left to the potential purchaser. Those who are tempted however
will be treated to a burnished recital.