DVOŘÁK; SUK Piano Quartets
The Josef Suk Piano Quartet take their name from the great violinist rather than his composer grandfather, whose Op 1 they perform. Confused? Don’t be. All four musicians are steeped in the Czech tradition, which in terms of the string players means warmth and an unfettered ease that is very engaging. Climaxes are full-throated but never overstated – just listen to the way the first movement of Dvořák’s Second Piano Quartet ebbs and flows, one moment surging forwards, the next brought down to the quietest of dynamics. In the slow movement the cello’s opening melody might not have quite the heightened quality of Torleif Thedéen in the 2012 ‘Martha Argerich Presents’ (what a crying shame that this wonderful Lugano festival is no more), but how tender the Suk players are in the passage from 1'28". The third movement (too relaxed to be called a scherzo) is full of colour, not least the piano’s imitation of a cimbalom at 2'09". The finale is wonderfully well paced, fully bringing out its exuberant boot-stamping rusticities which contrast so well with the lovingly moulded slower passages. I find the Lugano players a little breathless by comparison – it is, after all, marked Allegro, ma non troppo.
How enterprising to couple the quartet not with more Dvořák but with the A minor Piano Quartet of his son-in-law Josef Suk. Mind you, marriage was some years off when he wrote the quartet, aged just 17 and a student in Dvořák’s composition class. What’s striking is its sheer confidence, and the fact that it doesn’t sound like Dvořák. It’s given the best possible advocacy by these players – just listen to the individuality of the textures in the development of the first movement, a driving Allegro appassionato. Heart is very much on sleeve in the ravishing slow movement, which opens (like Dvořák’s) with a raptly sung cello melody. The players relish, too, the dancing inner section, and their way with the close of the movement is poised indeed. The leaping finale leaves you marvelling at Suk’s maturity and the imaginative way in which he varies the reappearances of the main theme. All is given with aplomb, right down to the slightly over-the-top closing bars.