Dvorak: Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81; String Quintet in E flat, Op. 97 (American)

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WORKS: Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81; String Quintet in E flat, Op. 97 (American)
PERFORMER: Christian Zacharias (piano); Leipzig Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 307 1249-2
The connections between certain of Dvorák’s early works and later, far better-known, compositions can often run deep. For instance, had he not considered revising his early A major Piano Quintet, the world would almost certainly not have one of its favourite chamber works: prompted by his first attempt in the medium, Dvorák composed, in hardly more than six weeks, the renowned Second Quintet, also in A. Even more surprisingly, there are strong links between his early String Quintet, his first substantial completed work, and his last, composed in America more than three decades later: both favour two violas over two cellos as well as showing resemblances in both musical material and the handling of texture. New recordings of these renowned works enter a crowded field where excellence is not in short supply. Christian Zacharias and the Leipzig Quartet take a very broad view of the first movement of the Piano Quintet, one of the longest in terms of playing time. The result is a touch uneven, with some fairly wide tempo swings and occasionally rather ponderous string articulation. The chief beneficiary of this approach is the slow movement which is given a splendidly thoughtful performance; the finale, however, lopes along in an amiable way, but without generating much excitement. Notwithstanding some lovely playing throughout, this performance does not approach that of the Gaudier Ensemble. The players seem more at ease with the American String Quintet, delivering a more straightforward but nevertheless expressive performance, which is certainly recommendable. Jan Smaczny