Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartet No. 10
, Op. 51.
Boskovsky Qrt; Vienna P Qrt; Clifford Curzon (pn)
DECCA ELOQUENCE 4804715 (66:27)
Willi Boskovsky, the concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic from 1936 to 1979, is the link between the two groups featured here: the Boskovsky Quartet, founded in 1947, and the Vienna Philharmonic Quartet, which he joined later. The personnel of the Boskovsky
Quartet—members of the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna Symphony— were also part of the Vienna Octet, one of the first of many Viennese ensembles to record for Decca over the next quarter of a century. The Vienna Philharmonic Quartet was founded in 1939 with Wolfgang Schneiderhan as first violinist, but it wasn’t until 1960, after several personnel changes, that Boskovsky joined the group, bringing his Decca connections.
Both performances exemplify a Viennese Dvo?ák style, an approach that, according to Tully Potter’s booklet notes, “can be rightly accused of rounding off Dvo?ák’s corners,” but has musical validity since “Vienna was, for good or ill, the center of Dvo?ák’s world and musicians of Czech extraction filled its ensembles.” The Boskovsky Quartet recorded Dvo?ák’s 10th Quartet in 1951 and it is issued here on CD for the first time. The performance is characterized by sweet-toned restraint. The string playing invites the listener to be drawn into the full texture, and solo passages seem to float, not grab the spotlight. The snappiness, even vehemence of some Czech or modern American groups is missing in these softer-edged performances, but I find the approach just fine for the predominantly gentle op. 51 Quartet, three of whose movements are in slow to moderate tempos. The more dynamic Quintet is played with greater energy.
The Dvo?ák Piano Quintet was a specialty of the great Clifford Curzon, a pianist whose playing had great subtlety and interpretive naturalness. This performance, recorded in 1962 in Vienna’s Sofiensaal and produced by John Culshaw, improves upon his excellent earlier recording of the work with the Budapest Quartet, partly due to Decca’s improved sound.
After Robert Scheiwein’s slightly drab sounding opening cello solo, and a less than scintillating opening to the first movement, the performance takes off. The magical world of the slow movement, Dvo?ák’s finest dumka, is evoked in an atmospheric reading, and the two final movements are played with infectious animation. There is no greater chamber work by Dvo?ák, and no greater piano quintet by anyone. This splendid, unpretentious interpretation, whose spark I suspect Curzon did much to ignite, is a performance that has provided me with joyous listening over the years.
By coincidence, there’s a recording on the MSR label that pairs the same Dvo?ák quartet and quintet, but they are heard in transcriptions by hornist David Jolley for wind instruments. The pianist in the quintet is the deservedly celebrated writer/virtuoso Jeremy Denk, joining an elite group of New York wind players called “Windscape.” The music transfers remarkably well.
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
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