The Josef Suk Piano Quartet produces ‘moments of remarkable profundity’ in Piano Quartets by Suk and Dvořák

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak,Suk
LABELS: Supraphon
ALBUM TITLE: Dvořák * Suk
WORKS: Dvořák: Piano Quartet No. 2; Suk: Piano Quartet
PERFORMER: Josef Suk Piano Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SU 4227-2

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For Josef Suk (1874-1935), his Piano Quartet was truly a landmark work. When Dvořák told the 16-year-old budding composer he had done a ‘good job’ with the second movement, Suk was inspired to try to measure up to the great man for the rest of his life. 

As teacher, and later father-in-law, Dvořák was undoubtedly an inspiration and emotional touchstone for Suk, yet he never compromised his pupil’s individuality. There is a restless quality to the first movement of Suk’s Op. 1 Quartet in A minor that the Czech ensemble (named after the composer’s violinist grandson rather than the composer himself) here captures admirably. There are times when the developmental writing can seem a little dutiful, and the melody is not always memorable; but there are also moments of remarkable profundity, notably in the soulful Adagio which never tips over into sentimentality.

Notwithstanding its aggressive unison opening, Dvořák’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat major has a very warm heart. Completed just before the Eighth Symphony, the Quartet shares that work’s surprising mood swings, and its scherzo has a similar beguiling grace. The performers certainly have the measure of the work and give a considered reading that respects the detail of the score without losing any sense of spontaneity. There are times when their tempos seem a little wayward, notably at the end of the first movement, but these interpretative nuances never get in the way of the expressive intentions of the piece, and the playing throughout is unfailingly beautiful.

Altogether, these are passionate and convincing performances only slightly let down by a recorded sound that could have been more resonant and with more bloom for the piano. 

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Jan Smaczny