Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Quintets: No. 1 on A; No. 2 in A
ARTE NOVA 340330 (67:10)
Dvo?ák’s earliest works contain every bit as much melodic beauty as his late masterpieces; the difference being that—about half way through each (early) opening movement—we become aware that the music isn’t going anywhere, at which point the gorgeous melodies lose some of their charm. In this case, the difference is emphasized by the marvels of the Second Quintet, a highlight of the composer’s
and of the chamber-music repertoire.
Arcus is a Viennese ensemble founded in 1988; these recordings were made in Bratislava in 1991. Arte Nova gives us a photo of the five musicians but does not tell us their names, nor whether this piano-and-string-quartet grouping is its basic form. Whoever they may be, they do a nice job on the early quintet, keeping it light and happy. The pianist has a gorgeous touch in the fleet runs that dominate the piece; he bangs a bit in the codas, but this is such a common occurrence in Dvo?ák’s piano music that one suspects it to be generic. All in all, an enjoyable rendition.
The performance of the mature Quintet is equally fine, but it runs up against some heavy guns: the great 1982 live performance by Richter and the Borodin Quartet on Yang Entertainment 10021 and the exquisite playing of the Jerusalem Quartet with Stefan Vladar on Harmonia Mundi 901899 (
30:1 and my Want List 2006). Arcus’s tempos in the opening Allegro ma non troppo are stretched both ways, resulting in a few shocking moments; since abrupt transitions are part of the movement’s charm, these exaggerations do no harm. String intonation is not always perfect, and ensemble is not as tight as one might wish, but Arcus has a way of altering phrasings just enough from consensus to be winning. Its Scherzo (Furiant) doesn’t quite reach Dvo?ák’s
specification, but I like its sunny charm; its laid-back Trio makes the Furiant’s return seem faster. Comparing it with the performances mentioned, I find that I like Arcus despite consistently finer moments elsewhere. This ensemble has a very natural feeling for both pieces, seemingly just playing the music rather than trying to score interpretive or virtuosic points (by which I don’t mean to damn any of the others). Particularly in this Scherzo, the instrumentalists have a fine sense of balance, the piano stepping forward at appropriate moments but then retiring subtly to bring out a cello or a violin line. Overall, Arcus brings a great deal of variety to both performances, which benefits the extremely long (in this case over 40 minutes) Second Quintet. The recorded sound is perfectly satisfactory, so I have no hesitation in recommending this dirt-cheap disc to anyone, as an initial acquisition for a newcomer to the music or as an umpteenth version for the seasoned collector.
FANFARE: James H. North
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