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Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Quintet in A, Op. 5 (1872) [28:24]
Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81 (1887) [41:17]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
Borodin Quartet: Michael Kopelman (violin); Andrej Abramenkov (violin); Dmitry Shebalin (viola); Valentin Berlinksky (cello)
rec. live 31 December 1982, Moscow
REVELATON RV10092 [69:47]

This live performance was taped on New Year’s Eve 1982, presumably in Moscow, although it does not say. Richter’s presence is obviously a star attraction but the piano is by no means a subordinate partner to the strings; all are equally impassioned and liberated, although Richter’s leading in the flowing Andante of Op. 5 is particularly beguiling. Played like this, the earlier work does not sound as if it deserved the composer’s dissatisfaction – to the extent that he destroyed the score and on second thoughts retrieved a copy from one of the original performers – even if the finale is a tad ham-fisted and over-emphatic, both on the part of the composer and the performers. Tempi are elastic and leisurely throughout both works, indicating the folk origins of the music, freed from classical restraints. Dvořák is nothing if not at heart a composer with his roots in the melodies and rhythms of his homeland.

I am not familiar with the performances on the Philips label recorded live in concert six months earlier in Prague, but by all accounts, they are very similar, this one being, if anything even more released and in better sound, which is rich, deep and close. There is, astonishingly for Moscow in winter, virtually no noise from the audience. My MWI colleague Jonathan Woolf reviewed those recordings within his evaluation of the big Brilliant box set of Dvořák’s chamber music and preferred it for its extra refinement; it all depends whether you want that or more excitement. The coda to the opening movement of Op. 81 is especially thrilling but you need to make small allowances for some raw violin sound and occasional flaws in intonation, they are playing with such attack and abandon. The Dumka is especially indulgent - much more so than other versions I know - but it works, especially in contrast to the ensuing Furiant, which is surprisingly fleet and delicate despite its intense conclusion. That frenzy is immediately carried over into the manic finale which concludes with noble assurance.

In a recent BBC Radio 3 Record Review, the modern recording from the Pavel Haas Quartet and Boris Giltburg on Supraphon came out top, but this one will be indispensable to fans of both Richter and the Borodin Quartet for its unbridled passion and energy. My own favourite recording of Op. 81 has long been by the Clementi Ensemble on the bargain ASV Quiksilva label, coupled with the Op. 82 Piano Quartet, which is altogether a lighter – er, more quicksilvery – account – a rather different, but equally valid, experience from the one under review.

Ralph Moore


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