WORKS: Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81; Piano Quartet in E flat, Op. 87
PERFORMER: Menahem Pressler (piano), Emerson Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 439 868-2 DDD
Brimming with melody, it’s no wonder that the second of Dvorák’s two piano quintets is among his most popular works. Even apart from his persuasive formal logic, the composer’s handling of the instruments imbues the simplest ideas with luminosity. With such popularity, a recorded performance of distinction becomes a very special quantity. The Emerson Quartet have come close to providing the field with a classic. Their trump card is Menahem Pressler’s glorious piano playing. I have often found the Emersons’ high-pressured manner over the top, but here their way with the expressive rhetoric of the quintet and their clear-headedness about where the piece is heading turn this into a performance to treasure.
Sadly, the Talich Quartet are not on top form in their performance. They are both elegant and profound, but at times their aristocratic reserve seems to engender lethargy and their intonation can be less secure. Coupled with a close, boxy recording, they come nowhere near to the level of the Emersons.
The Coull Quartet have gallantly side-stepped popularity for a recording of lesser known Dvorák chamber works. Their performance of the delightful and challenging G major Quintet is exemplary, and very well recorded – the double bass sounds as fruity as a bassoon. Their performance of the more familiar Op. 51 Quartet is agreeable, though far from being a standard recommendation.