DVOŘÁK Piano Quartets Nos 1 & 2 (Dvořák Piano Quartet)
It’s good to have another disc pairing Dvořák’s two piano quartets – not as popular a choice as you might imagine – and you’d expect an ensemble named after the composer to be at one with his music. The Dvořák Quartet bring an endearing affability to the opening movement of the First Piano Quartet, slightly more relaxed in pace than the Busch Trio with Miguel da Silva, whose recording I much admired in 2017. They’re also fully alive to the musing quality of the theme on which the second-movement variations are built, contrasting this nicely with the bright-eyed first variation. The second, though, sounds a touch over-egged – the Busch/da Silva are more naturally yearning here. But the Dvořák Quartet’s pianist, Slávka Vernerová-Pěchočová, sets the scene in the fourth with just the right degree of drama to the rolled chords, while the players capture to a nicety the fraught quality of the fifth variation and the gently consoling coda. The genial finale comes across well too, though the Busch/da Silva are more playful here, their delight in the music palpable. Both groups remind us that this is a work that deserves to be much better known.
There are fine things in the Second Quartet, too, and the Dvořák Quartet offer the ideal combination of strength and rounded sonorities at the outset. The duet between cello and piano that opens the second movement is also judged just right – heartfelt yet without exaggeration, the pizzicato of the other two instruments there but not intrusive; by comparison, Torleif Thedéen and Polina Leschenko in the live recording from Lugano use more rubato and sound more interventionist – I prefer the greater naturalness of this new set, or those by the Suk Piano Quartet and the aforementioned Busch/da Silva. But whereas the Suk really push through the tumultuous passagework, the new account (track 5, 3'08") gives more emphasis to the strength of the writing. In the third movement, the Dvořák Quartet revel in the cimbalom effects without overdoing them, though some may find their speed a little slow. And the finale has pace and energy and works better than the Lugano account, which seems to be chivvying us along, losing some of the piece’s sparkle as a result.
Overall, then, a fine new addition to the Dvořák discography.