London debut of the Dvořák Piano Quartet from Prague, reviewed by Patrick Lambert
On 16 September at the Slovak Embassy in London we were introduced to the thrilling playing of the newly formed Dvořák Piano Quartet in a concert mounted by The Dvořák Society in association with London Velehrad. The four brilliant musicians demonstrated immediately, through their elegant performance of Mozart’s G minor Piano Quartet, KV 478, that they were no novices in the field of chamber music. Indeed, the violinist Jana Vonášková-Nováková is already widely known for her recitals and for her Supraphon recordings from her time as a member of the Smetana Trio; the viola player Petr Verner was previously a member of the New Vlach String Quartet and his wife, the pianist Slávka Vernerová-Pěchočová was a member of the Kinsky Trio, known for their complete recording of Martinů’s Trios on the Praga Digitals label, while the cellist Jan Ždánský has recorded Janáček’s chamber works with her. In their well -planned programme, they followed Mozart’s piece with a rare example of a student work by Mahler, his Quartet Movement in A minor, Op. 87. Here, with their intensely lyrical playing, they brought out the hyper-Romantic character of the music, written when Mahler was 16 and hardly typical of his later style except, perhaps, in the brief violin cadenza with its hysterical descent to the depths, here played with passion by Jana – a quality that will surely stand her in good stead as a member of the Pražák Quartet, which she has recently joined (see Newsletter No. 113, front page). After a short interval, we were treated to a strong performance of Dvořák’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat, in which the pianist, a former pupil of the late Ivan Moravec, succeeded in extracting powerful tones from the Embassy’s rather intractable Petrov instrument. The splendid rapport between all four musicians was a delight both aurally and visually, especially their evident enjoyment of the charmingly inventive scherzo movement. Overall, the performance was refreshingly unsentimental and full of energy. The flood of rich tones filled the hall and was greeted with exceptional warmth by a packed audience. Following the excitement of Dvořák’s piece, our spirits were calmed by a tranquil encore – the beautiful last part of the Adagio from the Piano Quartet in A minor, Op. 1, written by the 17 year old Suk while a member of Dvořák’s composition class at the Prague Conservatoire and greatly praised by his teacher. It made a fitting counterpart to Mahler’s youthful composition heard earlier. In appreciation of this inspiring evening, proving that the Dvořák Piano Quartet deserves a place in the galaxy of top Czech chamber ensembles, our Chairman thanked the players and presented a white rose to each of them.