DVOŘÁK Love Songs Op 83. Cypresses. Piano Quintet
A great programming idea, this – couching the predominantly lyrical A major Piano Quintet in the context of love songs, both as originally conceived and as transformed into various Cypresses for string quartet. The sequence opens with eight songs sensitively sung by soprano Adriana Ku∂erová, a vocal epitome of amatory responsiveness, then we’re given five of the songs in their quartet versions, not in the same order (good move!) and tenderly phrased, especially the third of them (‘In deepest forest glade’).
No complaints whatever about the playing of the Thymos Quartet, who prove animated narrators of these heartfelt confessions, nor in the mostly vivacious ‘second’ Quintet. But the real star of the show is pianist Christoph Eschenbach, whose accompaniments in the songs truly amount to added commentaries and who is the ideal playing partner in the Quintet, softening his touch whenever his colleagues need to take the lead, then asserting himself according to the dictates of the musical moment. Put on virtually any extended passage in the first movement, and you’ll experience the joy of Eschenbach’s three-dimensional approach. Also, his poetic phrasing in the Scherzo’s Trio: that should really make you smile. Were I asked to choose a recording that demonstrates chamber-music piano-playing at its most sensitive and collaborative, this would definitely be a strong contender. Tempi for the second movement are often uncommonly slow (even from the opening viola melody), and the closing moments are positively elegiac. Still, the Scherzo lifts the spirits, and the extrovert mood carries through to the finale. Throughout the entire performance there’s no mistaking the leader of the pack: one is always aware of listening to an excellent quartet and an exceptional pianist. Absolutely no harm in that!