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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Op. 81, B.155 (1887) [41:54]
String Quintet in E flat major, Op. 97, B.180 (1893) [32:39]
Pavel Haas Quartet (Veronika Jarůškova, Marek Zweibel (violins); Radim Sedmidubský (viola); Peter Jarůšek (cello))
Boris Giltburg (piano)
Pavel Nikl (viola)
rec. 2017, Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU4195-2 [74:41]

Since their formation in 2002, the Pavel Haas Quartet has received many prestigious awards and accolades, but in this new recording they have arguably achieved even greater interpretative insight. All these outstanding musicians are steeped in Dvořák’s compositional mastery and there is a clear sense of ownership in listening to their performance here: the textures are warm and perfectly paced, each part is clearly expressed and differentiated throughout and there are no notable weaknesses either in terms of technical skill or in the recording quality itself (for which Supraphon deserves great credit).

For Dvořák, creation of chamber music was always an important part of his creative development as a composer, with his search for musical colouring and vitality feeding into his larger scale works. His second piano quintet is surely one of his finest compositions, marked by masterful incorporation of Slavonic folk elements, and very wide tonal variation across movements. It consists of a long first movement, with two extensively developed main themes, a primarily melancholic but occasionally exuberant dumka (which literally means “thought”), a Bohemian folk scherzo (or furiant) and a finale written in the form of a sonata with three themes.

Pianist Boris Giltburg’s playing is superb in the first movement, providing supreme delicacy and exuberance in equal measure – but his crowning performance is in the dumka in which his playing is beautifully weighted and paced, and it is perfectly captured within the spacious interior of the Rudolfinum. In the furiant and finale, the cello is occasionally a little muddy or otherwise lost in the texture, but the violins and viola are as clear as a bell and the performers play with great exuberance.

The string quintet (Op. 97, B.180) is a shorter and comparatively simple affair, both in terms of the parts and the demands placed on the listener. It was written while Dvořák was in the USA, with his family and other Czechs around him, and we can assume that his well-known longing for his beloved home in the Bohemian countryside was well managed at this time. Given his strong Czech sensibilities it is remarkable how well he was able to incorporate American (and Native American) stylistic elements into this work (including strong syncopated rhythms and pentatonic melodic emphases).

What a wonderful performance this is! The first movement (Allegro non tanto) begins quietly with a four bar unaccompanied solo on second viola before the other parts join in. Having Pavel Nikl, one of the founding members of the Pavel Hass Quartet, brought back to the fold for this work was a master stroke. The two violas produce a wonderfully deep texture to the overall palette, and the composer’s three themes unfurl with purpose and enthusiasm before ending softly with a brief echo of the opening bars. Evoking Native American drum rhythms in its first and last sections, the second movement (marked allegro vivo) is played with a great vitality, with a gentle pause in the central section in which an evocative and leisurely theme is played first on viola and then violin.

The third and longest movement (larghetto) contains some of Dvořák’s finest melodic writing, and it is here in the fourth variation that Jarůšek’s robust and elegant cello playing can be best appreciated. Given the supreme elegance of this movement, the final movement can seem rather stilted and predictable. Nevertheless, these players exploit it well and play with a fiery swagger which rounds off the performance in style. My recording of the year? Absolutely!

Peter Bright

Previous review: Michael Cookson



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