Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Quintets: No. 1,
; No. 2
Goldner Str Qrt; Piers Lane (pn)
HYPERION 67805 (66:32)
In a number of past Dvo?ák reviews, I’ve cited the composer’s prolixity and tendency to extend his material in inverse proportion to its potential. That is something that cannot be said of the Second Piano Quintet, which, in my opinion, is not only his finest chamber
work, but one of his most brilliant pieces of writing in any genre. In terms of construction alone—i.e., how the thing is put together—the quintet is of a perfection seldom achieved by Dvo?ák. In proportion and balance, both within its individual movements and in its totality, as well as in its exceptionally felicitous instrumental part-writing, this is a piece in which everything comes together and works. Add to that the first movement’s opening theme, one of the most arrestingly beautiful melodies ever conceived, the convivial Czech
Scherzo, and the extraordinarily well-organized last movement with its clever fugal episode—clearly indebted to the last movement of Schumann’s fantastic E?-Major Piano Quintet—and you have in Dvo?ák’s op. 81 one of the great masterpieces of 19th-century Romantic chamber music.
Logical a coupling as the composer’s earlier effort in the medium might seem, there have been more than four times the number of recordings of op. 81 as there have been of the same-keyed Piano Quintet, op. 5, which means that while almost every one of the dozen versions of op. 5 are paired with op. 81, there are more than two dozen recordings of op. 81 left to partner with other discmates.
In the listening, op. 5 is a tuneful if somewhat bittersweet work, which, in only three movements—no Czech peasant Scherzo here—tries, without entirely succeeding, not to outstay its welcome. Note author Jan Smaczny says as much when he notes that the “quintet shows something of the discursiveness of the early string quartets.” Dvo?ák himself must have realized this, for having completed the score in 1872, he destroyed the manuscript. It was resurrected from the ashes in the form of a copy that turned up in the possession of Ludevit Porcházka; in 1887, the same year in which the Second Quintet was completed, Dvo?ák revised the First Quintet, making a cut of some 150 bars. Undoubtedly, it helped, but even with only three movements, the piece still goes on for 27 minutes.
Resident at the University of New South Wales, the Goldner String Quartet—named after Richard Goldner, founder of the original Musica Viva Australia—was established in 1995 by four string players from the Australia Ensemble. In 1997 the Goldners made their debut at Wigmore Hall in London, and in October 2001, their American debut with concerts at the 92nd Street Y in New York. A complete Beethoven cycle in 2004 was recorded live by ABC Classics. Pianist Piers Lane is of course a well-known artist, having recorded extensively for Hyperion.
More than 50 versions of op. 81 are vying for your dollars, including one from the Gaudier Ensemble in which Hyperion is in competition with itself. A longtime favorite of mine is by the Ridge String Quartet with pianist Rudolf Firkušný on RCA. Firkušný was something of a Dvo?ák specialist, having recorded the quintet on three separate occasions and the composer’s piano concerto at least five times. He brings to the score a certain native Czech contagion that spreads to the RSQ players, raising their temperature a bit above the norm and giving them a slight febrile edge over other contestants. Not to be overlooked either is a scintillating performance by the Jerusalem Quartet with pianist Stefan Vladar on Harmonia Mundi, or for those favorably disposed toward Heifetz’s chamber music collaborations, the violinist’s 1964 RCA recording with Israel Baker, Joseph de Pasquale, Gregor Piatigorsky, and Jacob Lateiner.
The Ridge/Firkušný version would still, I think, be my first choice, but this new offering by the Goldner String Quartet and Piers Lane achieves a very high level of excellence, balancing in equal measure ensemble brilliance and finesse. The first-movement exposition repeat is observed, and the players deliver the Scherzo with a good deal of flash and dash, while managing to serve up a warmhearted Andante con moto
movement without any excess schmaltz.
The recording is up to Hyperion’s usual high standards, and a beautiful photo reproduction of a painting,
, by Jenny Montigny adorns the cover. While this new release will probably not find its way onto my 2010 Want List—only five can be chosen to meet that lofty goal—it’s still a very beautiful recording and one that deserves a very strong recommendation.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
This is a beautiful, fresh recording of Dvorák's two lovely piano quintets. Piers Lane is a terrific chamber music player--just listen to how intelligently he balances his part against the strings in the finale of the First quintet. You never get the sense that he's holding back, but with characterful articulation and incisive rhythm he manages to shine without ever overshadowing the strings. The Goldner Quartet features Australian first violinist Dene Olding, who made some excellent solo recordings for ABC Classics. The Goldners play very well, with a touch more edge to their tone than, say, the Panocha Quartet on Supraphon, but with the kind of robust lyricism that benefits both works, particularly in the long Dumka second movement of Op. 81.
Indeed, one of the major virtues of this coupling is the excellent pacing in both works. The Second quintet is a difficult piece to judge, with its two very long opening movements followed by two much shorter ones. This performance gets it right: the second movement is well contrasted and not too slow, and the trio of the scherzo is simply heavenly. In the First quintet the flowing tempo of its central slow movement, a touch quicker than usual, seems absolutely right. Indeed, the whole performance has an unusual degree of rhythmic strength and boldness, belying the notion that Dvorák's Op. 5, at least in its final form, is in any way immature. Outstandingly natural engineering completes a most attractive package.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Featured Sound Samples
Piano Quintet no 1: III. Allegro con brio
Piano Quintet no 2: II. Dumka. Andante con moto
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