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Dvorak: Piano Quartet No. 2, Op. 87, Piano Quintet No. 2, Op. 81 / Schubert Ensemble

Dvorak / Schubert Ensemble
Release Date: 05/29/2012 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10719   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Alexandra WoodWilliam HowardDouglas PatersonSimon Blendis,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schubert Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



DVO?ÁK Piano Quartet No. 2. Piano Quintet No. 2. 1 Gypsy Songs: “Songs My Mother Taught Me” Schubert Ens; 1 Alexandra Wood (vn) CHANDOS 10719 (76: 55)


They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but recent studies by neuroscientists suggest that perceptions of beauty really do have a basis in physical form, and unsurprisingly, perhaps, that form Read more is symmetry. Individuals whose facial features exhibit a high degree of symmetry, for example, are generally recognized to be more beautiful than those whose faces resemble a Picasso cubist portrait.


I mention this because I’ve often wondered what the criteria would be for musical beauty if scientific study of brain scans could compile data on the characteristics that cause us to identify a melody as beautiful. There are some melodies that are so immediately arresting and hauntingly memorable that they imprint themselves on our minds instantly and permanently. Such a melody is the opening to Dvo?ák’s A-Major Piano Quintet, op. 81, a melody that never fails to take my breath away every time I hear it and that is always with me in the back of my mind. Sometimes, out of the blue, I find myself humming it at the oddest moments and in the oddest places. What makes it more beautiful than a hundred other melodies? Is it symmetry? I don’t know.


In popularity, the A-Major Piano Quintet appears to be Dvo?ák’s third most popular chamber work, right behind the “American” String Quartet and the “Dumky” Trio. The quintet’s younger sibling by two years, the E?-Major Piano Quartet, hasn’t found nearly as keen an audience and is rarely coupled with the quintet on a single disc as here. One recording I know of, though, that does pair the two works is not to be dismissed lightly; it’s the one with the Emerson Quartet joined by pianist Menahem Pressler (of Beaux Arts Trio fame) on Deutsche Grammophon.


The piano quartet doesn’t share the quintet’s strong melodic profile or Czech-inflected harmonies and rhythms (until we come to the last movement), and as is not unusual for Dvo?ák, there’s a good deal of doodling and noodling. Many passages, especially in the work’s first movement, reflect the influence of Brahms. Still, when it comes to a musical genre for which 19th-century composers didn’t show that much interest, the second of Dvo?ák’s two piano quartets is a significant contribution to the literature.


A number of past encounters with the Schubert Ensemble of London in Brahms, Franck, and Schumann have been positive, and there’s nothing in these Dvo?ák performances to alter that impression. The ensemble’s repertoire is wide-ranging and diverse, with recordings of works by Mendelssohn, Enescu, Martin?, Vaughan Williams, and Tavener having been reviewed by others in these pages.


As mentioned, the coupling of the quartet and quintet on a single disc is an uncommon one, but if it’s mainly the quintet you’re interested in, there are quite a few excellent versions to choose from; two standouts both factor pianist Rudolf Firku?ný into the equation. One is Sony’s 1975 recording with the Juilliard Quartet, which pairs the quintet with a high-voltage 1967 performance of the “American” Quartet. The other is RCA’s 1990 recording with the Ridge String Quartet, pairing the op. 81 Quintet with Dvo?ák’s early op. 5 Piano Quintet in the same key. Firku?ný, I think, had a special flair for Dvo?ák, Janá?ek, Martin?, and other native Czech composers.


This new Chandos release is a very fine one, sporting superior sound, as is customary for the company’s recordings, and the Schubert Ensemble turns in topflight playing and thoughtfully considered performances that steer clear of rhetorical flourishes and interpretive exaggeration.


The two-minute “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” the fourth number in Dvo?ák’s set of 10 Gypsy Songs , is a nice takeaway in this arrangement for piano quartet by members of the Schubert Ensemble.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1. Quintet for Piano and Strings no 2 in A major, Op. 81/B 155 by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Alexandra Wood (Violin), William Howard (Piano), Douglas Paterson (Viola),
Simon Blendis (Violin), Jane Salmon (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schubert Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887; Bohemia 
Date of Recording: November 28-30, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
2. Quartet for Piano and Strings no 2 in E flat major, Op. 87/B 162 by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Jane Salmon (Cello), Simon Blendis (Violin), Douglas Paterson (Viola),
William Howard (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schubert Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1889; Bohemia 
Date of Recording: November 28-30, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
3. Zigeunermelodien (7), Op. 55: no 4, Als die alte Mutter by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Jane Salmon (Cello), Simon Blendis (Violin), Douglas Paterson (Viola),
William Howard (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schubert Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Bohemia 
Date of Recording: November 28-30, 2011 
Venue:  Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 
Notes: Arranged for Piano Quartet by the Schubert Ensemble. 

Sound Samples

Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 87, B. 162: I. Allegro con fuoco
Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 87, B. 162: II. Lento
Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 87, B. 162: III. Allegro moderato, grazioso
Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 87, B. 162: IV. Finale: Allegro ma non troppo
Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81, B. 155: I. Allegro ma non tanto
Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81, B. 155: II. Dumka: Andante con moto
Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81, B. 155: III. Scherzo (Furiant): Molto vivace
Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81, B. 155: IV. Finale: Allegro
Zigeunermelodien, Op. 55, B. 104 (arr. for piano quartet): Zigeunermelodien, Op. 55, B. 104: No. 4. Als die alte Mutter (Songs My Mother Taught Me) (arr. for piano quartet)

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