Dvorak: Piano Quartet in E flat, Op. 87; Romantic Pieces, Op. 75; Sonatina in G, Op. 100

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Piano Quartet in E flat, Op. 87; Romantic Pieces, Op. 75; Sonatina in G, Op. 100
PERFORMER: Isaac Stern (violin), Jaime Laredo (viola), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Emanuel Ax, Robert McDonald (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SK 62597
By comparison with his popular Piano Quintet, Dvorák’s Second Piano Quartet, written just after it, is absurdly under-represented on disc. Less overtly appealing, it nevertheless offers similar lyrical riches and it certainly tells us more about a complex composer who, towards the end of the 1880s when it was written, was entering a period of personal introspection. There are moments when an overwhelming pathos breaks through – try the latter part of the first movement when the viola, Dvorák’s instrument, adds a poignant gloss to the second theme. The slow movement, one of Dvorák’s finest, also has reserves of tragic power which erupt in a central section with astonishing force.

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Perhaps these disturbing qualities are the reason why ensembles tend to avoid the quartet, so all credit to these four performers who make their case for the work so eloquently. For all their exalted status, there is no sense of anyone striving for the limelight. At times there is a slight roughness at the top end and some may find the treatment of expressive moments a little indulgent; I don’t, since so much of the playing is genuine ensemble music-making. The performance of the Quartet by Domus on Hyperion perhaps offers a more rounded approach which is constantly rewarding, but there is so much to savour here – notably Laredo’s superb viola-playing – that no one will be disappointed. Stern takes a somewhat autumnal view of Dvorák’s G major Sonatina and the Romantic Pieces, but they are none the worse for that. Jan Smaczny