Notes and Editorial Reviews
Suite in A,
Dumka and Furiant,
Radoslav Kvapil (pn)
ALTO 1044 (71:53)
In these 1998 recordings, Kvapil—to my mind the leading exponent of Czech piano music—plays the Bösendorfer that Dvo?ák acquired in 1879, on
and for which much of this music was composed. In his program notes, the pianist discusses the instrument’s low pitch (435 hz), its “short-sounding tone,” and its “old Viennese mechanism, which of necessity limits its opportunities for virtuosity.” His theory is that all of this contributed to the nature of the music; that Dvo?ák, like Chopin, composed for his particular instrument, whereas Beethoven, Schumann, and Liszt composed for an imagined instrument that would only later be built.
This piano is indeed very different from a modern Bösendorfer; its basic tone is dark and dusky, its lack of brilliance suiting the music perfectly. It suggests an aged, mellowed wine. It is not obvious, however, where to draw the line between the instrument and Kvapil’s personal magic, as this is a sound and an interpretive approach that he has cultivated on modern Steinways as well. He knows his music beyond the borders of Bohemia, too; the opening Moderato of the “American” Suite swings like Joplin, and the Allegretto suggests a Gottschalk cakewalk. The more one listens to this disc, the more one is drawn into Dvo?ák’s world. I am ready to believe that this is 19th-century music-making, and not just for the instrument’s period cachet. Its unfamiliar character, however, does make it difficult to evaluate the quality of the recorded sound.
The problem with this disc lies not with artist, instrument, or engineering. Dvo?ák was primarily a string-player (viola), and his piano music has always been regarded as a minor corner of his
. Although his ubiquitous
Humoresque No. 7
was composed for piano, it is far better known in the arrangements for violin and for orchestra. The “American” Suite, too, is more often heard in its orchestral revision (although the American connection is stronger on the piano), and both sets of
originated as piano duets. All with good reason. I recommend this disc for its colorful recreation of another world, and for its historical interest, but I would much rather hear Brahms on this Bösendorfer: the intermezzos or the B? Concerto.
FANFARE: James H. North
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