Antonín Dvorák, like his contemporary Edvard Grieg, and unlike
most other composers, lived a seemingly happy life. His contentment
is reflected in these pieces, eight in each of the two sets,
written when he was 37 and 45 respectively. He started his professional
career at 21 as a violist in the new Prague Theatre Orchestra
founded by Smetana. For a decade he performed during the day
and composed at night, growing in confidence in his abilities.
He entered a composing competition in 1875 for which Johannes Brahms was a judge. Dvorák won, but more importantly it began a friendship between the two composers that was to last until Brahms’ death in 1897. Brahms admired a set of vocal pieces that Dvorák had written, the Moravian Duets, and recommended them to his publisher, Simrock, in Germany.
Simrock knew that his market was mostly for home consumption so he had Brahms write a lengthy set of Hungarian Dances for piano four-hands. These sold so well that he commissioned a similar set of Slavonic Dances from Dvorák, known as Op. 46 and published in 1878. The set of eight dances, each averaging 4˝ minutes, begins, and ends, with a Furiant, and runs the full gamut of tempi, key signatures, and Bohemian and Slavic dance styles – Dumka, Sousedska, Skocna and Polka. They are uniformly delightful, tuneful, and engaging pieces.
The first set of Slavonic Dances made money for Simrock and Dvorák, so another similar set was commissioned eight years later and they sold equally well. One irony of the Brahms and Dvorák dance sets for piano is that the former’s Hungarian Dances are largely adapted folk melodies, whereas Dvorák’s Slavonic Dances are entirely his creations.
The performers on this disk, James Anagnoson and Leslie Kinton, are now resident in Toronto, Canada but have toured widely, playing two-piano and piano four-hands repertoire across the U.S., Europe and Asia. They have even performed some of these pieces in Prague to critical and audience acclaim.
The performances here are both firm and light, because both touches are required in every piece. The listener can tell that both players hear the music exactly the same way, a most important criterion for a duo’s success. The album is also packaged beautifully, with a painting by contemporary Canadian artist Francine Gravel titled “Danse des Moissons” (Dance of the Reapers) on the cover as well as on the disk. This CD is an excellent addition to a Dvorák collection.