DVOŘÁK Piano Quintet No 2. String Quintet Op 97
Just a month after the Takács and Laurence Power impressed with their Dvořák Op 97 Quintet comes this one from the Pavel Haas Quartet, who are joined by Pavel Nikl, the quartet’s founder viola player. It is the happiest of reunions and their sense of shared purpose is evident from the very start. Their recorded acoustic – the Dvořák Hall of Prague’s Rudolfinum – is notably more reverberant than that for the Takács (the Wyastone Estate concert hall in Monmouth), which means that in climaxes they sound fulsome indeed. Not only is the acoustic more generous but so is the Pavel Haas’s tendency to bend and shape this music to their own ends. But because they are so inside the tradition, this is to the good.
From the off, they make the music their own, the very opening phrase, presented first by viola 2 and later cello, given a pungent folkiness. My wish for the Takács to be a degree lusher-toned at climaxes is amply fulfilled here, while the way the PHQ subside into the warmest of chords at the first movement’s close is truly felicitous. The Takács/Power are particularly compelling in the Allegro vivo second movement, more so than the milder-mannered Raphael; by comparison, the Pavel Haas are, like the kampa, more earthy – the music dances, but to quite different effect, while the climaxas are almost terrifying in their impact. The variation-form slow movement is every bit as intense and imaginatively coloured as the Takács, while the finale finds a similar level of joy, though, with the ample Supraphon acoustic, the climaxes sound as if they’re made by an army of string players – sample the passage from 6'40" to the end: I loved it, but some may find it a bit too much.
For the Second Piano Quintet, the Pavel Haas are joined by Boris Giltburg. I heard them live in the company of another prodigious young Russian-born talent – Denis Kozhukhin – and was mightily taken with the results. Giltburg is likewise completely at one with the quartet, who set off full of sighing pathos. The Elias with Jonathan Biss take a more flowing tempo but both score high in emotional impact – the new recording for its freedom and responsiveness, the Elias/Biss from an impetuosity and enthusiastic application of portamento. In both, the sense of story-telling is very persuasive. That acoustic strikes you again at the start of the Dumka second movement, the solo piano haloed as it introduces the wistful minor-key theme. The Elias/Biss line-up are very fine here, reducing their sound down to a whisper but also cherishing the tops of phrases, especially in the violin lines. There’s contrast between major and minor, fast and slow, but it never feels disjointed – as it can easily do – in either of these outstanding readings. To my ears, the Pavel Haas/Giltburg just have the edge in the bucolic Furiant that follows, the interplay between the five musicians at once unerring and sounding completely unstudied. Both groups offer a thrilling reading of the finale, the Elias more delicate, the PHQ more generous-toned. Another triumphant addition to the Pavel Haas’s already Award-laden discography.