ANTONIN DVORAK - Piano Quartet No. 1, Op. 23 - Piano Quartet No. 2, Op. 87 - Dvorák Piano Quartet

ANTONIN DVORAK - Piano Quartet No. 1, Op. 23 - Piano Quartet No. 2, Op. 87 - Dvorák Piano Quartet - 099925425722 - Released: November 2018 - Supraphon SU 4257-2

The music of Czech composer Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904) is always marked by a sunny temperament and garnished with plenty of traditional homespun folk elements, which makes it instantly appealing to practically everyone. And his Piano Quartets are no exception. The opening Allegro moderato movement of the Piano Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 23 has a naïve charm to it that could easily be mistaken for a chamber work by Franz Schubert, in that it doesn't develop it's main ideas, but rather extends them by transposed variations and repetitions, and slight alterations and colorations to the individual instrumental parts. But all of this is done so well that you hardly notice the lack of diversity, and are left to enjoy the pleasant jaunt through the countryside. The lyrical and poetic second movement achieves this end by giving the piano a more prominent role in its harmonic development and judicious ending. The Finale revisits the classical form of the opening movement, and returns its main melodic focus to the stringed instruments. The Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 87, written fifteen years later is self-assured, and opens with a dramatic theme that exudes confidence and lends itself to dynamic exchanges between the players and leads to a thrilling finish. The following Lento shifts the leading role to the cello, and in doing so focuses all of the romantically dramatic weight to this inner movement, the longest of the four, which ebbs and flows from rêverie passages to passionate bursts of energy. The following Grazioso tosses around what sounds like a Bohemian melody, and the final Allegro is Dvorák at his most innovative, with plenty of rhythmic energy and inspired harmonic twists and turns, especially in the piano part, and an ending that caps the whole work with bravado.

The Dvorák Piano Quartet, as their namesake implies, is one of the top Czech chamber ensembles at the moment. They blend together as if they had grown up together, and perform the music of Antonín Dvorák as if it was in their DNA. As a group, their expressive range is formidable and their individual techniques are quite impressive. Evidence of this is quite apparent in the way they play those shimmering - what I believe are called 'sautilles' - at the end of the first movement of the second quartet. Slávka Vernerová-Pechocová (piano), Štepán Pražák (violin), Petr Verner (viola) and Jan Ždánský (cello). I've always noticed that whenever the music of Czech composers is involved, important end of year awards, like 'Gramophone' awards for example, always go to Czech musicians and/or associated labels like Supraphon.

Jean-Yves Duperron - November