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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Quartet No.2 in E flat major, Op.87 (1889) [37:39]
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Piano Quartet in A minor, Op.1 (1891) [22:59]
Josef Suk Piano Quartet ((Radim Kresta (violin), Eva Krestová (viola), Václav Petr (cello), Václav Mácha (piano))
rec. 2016, Concert Hall of the Prague Conservatory
SUPRAPHON SU4227-2 [60:44]

Formed in 2012, the year after the death of the great violinist from whom it takes its name, the Josef Suk Piano Quartet is a young ensemble but one that already demonstrates formidable musical qualities. Previously recorded repertoire includes Brahms, Mahler and Fauré but here it’s on home turf in performances as convincingly performed as they are finely recorded.

The ensemble generates a sure sense of tonal warmth at all times modified by the dictates of the music. They know when to press the rhythms in Dvořák’s Op.87 Piano Quartet, as well as they know how to inflect the native dance rhythms embedded into the music. There’s a compelling intensity and narrative drive to the opening movement, reflecting an excellent balance between the strings and the piano, and an expressive depth that admits moments of vehement declamation in the slow movement. The grazioso element in the third movement, with its Dumka insinuations, also breaks out once or twice into more volatile moments and the finale is taken with agile, but musically adroit, shape. The movement’s rustic trajectory is counterbalanced by its sophisticated control. To all these demands, and more, the ensemble responds with consistent intelligence.

The coupling has received some interest over the last decade or so but it’s still not well-known, not least because it’s the work of a precocious – brilliantly precocious – sixteen-year-old Josef Suk (the grandfather of the violinist). The ensemble brings a deeply etched romantic drama to their playing that contrasts with other approaches to be encountered: the Suk Quartet members and Pavel Štěpán on Supraphon (not to be confused with the eponymous group led by Josef Suk - all these Suks get confusing - but the one led by Antonín Jouza) prefers a more brittle, staccato-like dynamism. The Ames Piano Quartet (see review) is fine but doesn’t quite summon up the romance and youthful effusiveness of the music quite as well, and the Nash Ensemble on Hyperion (see review) is, as I suggested in my review, on the Schumannesque side in its reading of Op.1. Note especially the quaintly perfumed slides in the central movement, as well as the flowing lyricism located, and in the finale the confident brio of the Supraphon reading. It’s the last movement that most reveals Suk’s indebtedness to his teacher Dvořák but what remains compellingly apparent is the degree of stylistic independence cultivated by the younger man.

With an attractive multi-language booklet – attractive in layout, colour design and information – and performances this good, I hope Supraphon keeps on with an exciting programme of recording for this excellent ensemble.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Nick Barnard



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