Dvořák: Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81; String Quintet No. 3 in E flat, Op. 97

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Supraphon
WORKS: Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81; String Quintet No. 3 in E flat, Op. 97
PERFORMER: Pavel Haas Quartet; Pavel Nikl (viola), Boris Giltburg (piano)

Advertisement MPU reviews

Hard on the heels of the Skampa Quartet’s excellent recording of Dvořák’s E flat major String Quintet (reviewed p97) comes one from the Pavel Haas Quartet, this time coupled to the ever-popular Second Piano Quintet. When he wrote the String Quintet on holiday in Spillville, Iowa, Dvořák relaxed with his family after many months in New York where teaching duties and social obligations had hung heavily. The impression from the American Quartet, written in a matter of days, is one of enormous creative energy erupting after a period of being bottled up. The String Quintet composed shortly afterwards is, in many ways, a more considered work. Dvořák’s emotional response to the great plains of the Midwest was one of reflection and sadness, although in his Spillville music it is tempered with a great deal of infectious ebullience. 

The Pavel Haas Quartet, joined by violist Pavel Nikl, certainly capture his reflective mood in the introduction to the first movement, but they also secure a sure-footed balance between tenderness and giddy celebration. Equally impressive is the scherzo in which the exuberant ‘hoe-down’ of the main section contrasts with a magically beautiful performance of the trio. Throughout the slow movement, the playing of the solo lines is captivating and the finale is both sophisticated in delivery while communicating irrepressible energy. 

Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 shares the spontaneous qualities of the American works. The lengthy consideration he gave to the much earlier Piano Quintet No. 1 with a view to revision and publication seems to have unleashed huge creative forces and the new Quintet was completed in barely six weeks. The measure of the best performances of the first movement is the balance achieved between the relaxed lyricism of the opening and the more earnest passages of development; over-emphasising either can lead to a feeling of breathlessness and self-indulgence. The Haas Quartet with Boris Giltburg provide both relaxation and a strong sense of purposeful energy; throughout every ‘espressivo’ marking is given full weight without the ensemble losing their grip on the structure or driving the lyricism too hard. The detail in the slow movement is also compelling especially where the piano doubles other instruments; the brisker sections might perhaps have been more playful, but the scherzo is full of fun with an intense, almost radiant treatment of the chorale-like trio. Their reading of the finale, which is often treated merely as a concluding romp, as it can often seem, has a rewarding dimension of seriousness, and the finale pages with their blend of stillness and celebration are superbly judged. 

Excellently recorded, these performances are among the most memorable I have encountered in recent years.

Jan Smaczny

Advertisement MPU reviews

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 11.0px; font: 9.5px ‘Felice Light’}
p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-indent: 8.5px; line-height: 11.0px; font: 9.5px ‘Felice Light’}
span.s1 {font-kerning: none}