WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Dvorak: Piano Quartets / Sucharova-Weiser, Vlach Quartet

Dvorak / Sucharova-weiser / Vlach Quartet Prague
Release Date: 12/15/2009 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572159  
Composer:  Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Helena Suchárová-Weiser
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlach String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

DVO?ÁK Piano Quartets: in D, op. 23; in E?, op. 87 Members of the Vlach Quartet; Helena Suchárová-Weiser (pn) NAXOS 8572159 (71: 11)

In the history of chamber-music-ensemble configurations, the piano quartet is a relative newcomer to the scene. The first such works are believed to have been written by Mozart in response to a commission from composer-publisher Anton Hoffmeister. His first, in G Read more Minor, appeared in 1785, and a second, in E? Major, followed in 1786, but not before Hoffmeister, who was expecting string quartets, had expressed his displeasure and released Mozart from further obligation. Around this same time, however, a teenaged Beethoven, still living under his parents’ roof in Bonn, also penned three piano quartets (see Fanfare 33:2 for further details). Whether he came upon the same idea as Mozart simultaneously but independently, or the light bulb went on when he heard Mozart’s quartets during a visit to Vienna in 1787, remains unknown. What is known, or strongly believed, is that before Mozart and Beethoven, the piano quartet did not exist. For all of his string quartets and piano trios, Haydn never made the leap, nor, as far we know, did anyone else.

It seemed like a really good idea—better than a string quartet in not being so treble oriented with two violins, and better than a piano trio in not sacrificing the alto viola string voice. Yet, for some reason, the piano quartet never caught on like its older siblings, and even among those composers who did make the effort—Weber (1), Mendelssohn (3), Marschner (2), Schumann (1), Theodor Kirchner (1), Dvo?ák (2), Brahms (3), Fauré (2), Enescu (2), Martin? (1), Walton (1), Bridge (2), Copland (1), Turina (1), and one or two others—the results are not generally cited at the top of their best works lists (except perhaps in the cases of Brahms and Fauré). Moreover, the number of piano quartets written following Mozart and Beethoven pales in comparison to the number of string quartets and piano trios.

Dvo?ák tried his hand at the medium twice, once in 1875, and again in 1889. Dvo?ák is a composer I periodically fall in and out of love with; currently, I think I’m in one of my not so loving phases. As I’ve had occasion to say before, his predisposition to prolixity seems to present itself in inverse proportion to the interest and sustainability of his musical material. In simple terms, the less he had to say, the longer he went on about it—not unlike some of my reviews. The D-Major Quartet is an excellent example. At 34-and-a-half minutes, it’s only two minutes shorter than its E?-Major companion, but one must take into account that the earlier work is in only three movements, compared to the more standard four-movement layout of its sibling. To be sure, the piece has some charming Czech-inflected melodies and lovely moments, but in between is much that would have ended up on the cutting room floor if Brahms had been the editor. The most memorable movement is the Andantino con variazioni, in which Dvo?ák spins a number of very imaginative variations over a plaintive, dumka-like theme.

The E?-Major Quartet is a much more tightly constructed work, and its movements are more proportionally balanced. Dvo?ák’s writing is also bolder, more assured, and more technically demanding, especially of the pianist. By this time, the composer had learned there was more to the art of thematic development than simply padding a piece with filler. The Lento, in the hideous key for the strings of G? Major (six flats), is clearly indebted to Brahms for its melodic outlines, harmonic vocabulary, and keyboard figuration. This is not your Dvo?ák of the dumka-colored slow movement. The Allegro moderato, grazioso is also not Dvo?ák’s typical high-spirited scherzo. It’s more of a waltz, and anyone really familiar with the composer’s work will instantly recognize the opening strain (after the introductory chords) as being almost identical to the fourth item in the set of Romantic Pieces, op. 75. Only with the last movement do we finally get the ruddy-cheeked Czech peasant dance that is so characteristic of Dvo?ák’s music.

These are excellent performances from members of the Vlach Quartet joined by pianist Helena Suchárová-Weiser, thoroughly idiomatic, as one might expect from this venerable Czech ensemble, and an excellent recording made at the Lobkowitz Palace, Prague, in 2008. Surprisingly, there isn’t as much competition as one might expect, at least not that couples both piano quartets on the same disc. Two that have long occupied favored status in my collection—one with the disbanded Domus on Hyperion, and the other with the Ames Piano Quartet on Dorian—are both still listed. But they are also both full-priced albums, and I wouldn’t argue that either holds a significant edge over this budget-priced Naxos disc. If you don’t already have one or more versions of Dvo?ák’s two piano quartets on your shelf, this is a sure bet for when you’re in one of your own Dvo?ák-loving phases.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins


These captivating performances are a salutary reminder that, while Dvo?ák's chamber music is readily accessible to musicians and listeners alike, it uniquely blossoms when performed by native Czech performers - and, as we shall see, by their well-trained fellow-travelers - who bring it an intuitive sense of expressive phrasing and an understanding of its various components.

The D major quartet's opening theme, the first thing we hear, underscores the point. It includes a hiccough of a syncopation: hit it too hard, and it impedes the motion; underplay it, and it's just a distraction. These players articulate it within the overall arch of the phrase, so the rhythmic gesture intensifies the forward impulse as it should.

Such felicities abound in these performances. The players launch all the cantabile phrases with a sure sense of their broad, arching shape. The waltzlike passages - the 6/8 variations of the D major's central movement, the Allegretto scherzando of its Finale, and the third movement of the E-flat - go with a lovely lilt and swing, and carry an authentic, open-hearted lyricism.

The D major quartet is formally rather interesting. It begins with a fully-fledged Allegro moderato sonata movement, fifteen minutes long. There follows a lovely eleven-minute Andantino with five variations. The seven-minute Finale begins with the brief Allegretto scherzando cited before heading into an Allegro agitato, thus encompassing elements of both a scherzo and a conventional finale. The structure looks as off-balance in the track-listing as it undoubtedly sounds in this description, but in fact the two latter movements constitute a plausible counterweight to the first. The four-movement E-flat quartet shows Beethoven's influence. The themes are no less fetching than in the earlier work, but they lend themselves more readily to "symphonic" working-out and development, and the whole leaves an impression of greater weight and importance.

Of the players, I was particularly taken by cellist Mikael Ericcson - who, I imagine, is probably not a native Czech - whose dusky, deep tone provides special pleasure on the numerous melodic phrases the composer supplies. At the piano, Helena Suchárová-Weiser spins out pearly, articulate passagework with full tonal weight and "support", and her well-balanced chords ring out. Violinist Jana Vlachová never quite soars as one wants; her tone is thinner and her articulation less meticulous than ideal. But she's a stylish and effective player, and violist, Karel Stadtherr, produces a tone sufficiently darker than hers to render their sounds easily distinguishable.

The engineers capture just enough hall resonance to enhance the beautiful playing, but not so much as to obscure it. One would have expected to find this sort of release on an expensive, imported Supraphon disc, where it still would have been a must-buy; at Naxos prices, it's absolutely a steal.

-- Stephen Francis Vasta, MusicWeb International
Read less

Works on This Recording

Quartet for Piano and Strings no 1 in D major, Op. 23/B 53 by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Helena Suchárová-Weiser (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlach String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1875; Bohemia 
Quartet for Piano and Strings no 2 in E flat major, Op. 87/B 162 by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Helena Suchárová-Weiser (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vlach String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1889; Bohemia 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Two unusual quartets October 8, 2017 By C David J Miller (Port Elliot, SA) See All My Reviews "Listening to the fresh and youthful first and the solid Brahmsian second quartet I am struck again by what a consummate late romantic Dvorak was. The recorded sound is rich and the individual instruments are well delineated in this recording. It makes me wonder why so few composers poured their best music into the piano quartet format because although the ubiquitous piano trio is a fine vehicle for just about any musical ideas, the additional viola surprisingly adds an almost symphonic dimension to the sound and really suits the complex material in the second quartet here. As a frequent concertgoer, I guess the answer is simply a practical one. There is hardly enough good material around to sustain enough permanent personnel. The sound is well up to Naxos's usual high standard." Report Abuse
Review This Title