Dvo?ák’s most famous quartet is perhaps the most astonishing achievement of his first American stay. Sketched with breathtaking fluency in a few hours, it is one of his freshest and most immediately appealing chamber works. His Second Piano Quintet shares these characteristics even though its gestation was rather more protracted, growing in part from an attempt to revise an earlier quintet.
Any ensemble taking on these two stalwarts of the repertoire cannot do so lightly, but the Jerusalem have triumphed in the case of Dvo?ák’s American. From the outset the playing, superbly captured in an excellent recording, is extraordinarily beautiful and their care over articulation is exemplary. Their performance of the slow movement is one of the finest recorded and everywhere there is much to admire. Unfortunately, in a very competitive field, minor quibbles must be taken into account and the undue slowness of the second melody of the first movement and the slightly hard driven opening of the finale mean that their performance as a whole does not quite match the superlative rendition of the Pražák Quartet.
On the other hand, the Quintet fares much less well. Again the playing is beautiful, but some of the concerted passages, particularly in the first and last movements, are over-emphatic and hectoring as is the Vivace section of the otherwise splendidly played slow movement. This is a pity since the Scherzo is full of infectious bounce, but as a whole this recording does not come close to the Gaudier’s affectionate and magnificently sustained performance. Jan Smaczny