Dvorak: Violin Concerto; Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81
PERFORMER: Sarah Chang, Alexander Kerr (violin), Leif Ove Andsnes (piano), Wolfram Christ (viola), Georg Faust (cello); LSO/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 5 57521 2
Dvorák’s Violin Concerto is one of the more experimental orchestral works of his early maturity. In fact, this very quality led to his first spat with his publisher, Simrock, whose over-zealous assistant suggested the composer detach his first movement from the slow movement to which it is linked. In high dudgeon, Dvorák refused, and the exquisite link remains. The problem for the performer is how to avoid making the foreshortened first movement seem perfunctory. Davis and Chang opt for a marked slowing of the secondary material; unfortunately this saps the movement of its headlong passion, skilfully balanced by the lyrical expanses of the Adagio. It’s a pity, since Chang’s playing is unfailingly expressive, but as a whole this performance, recorded in what sounds a fairly cavernous acoustic, is a much less complete experience than those of Josef Suk (Orfeo) and Tasmin Little (CfP).

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It is an enterprising idea to couple this Concerto with a chamber work, though it might have been even better to have had a work somewhat less frequently recorded than Dvorák’s Second Piano Quintet. Not everyone will respond to the broad view of tempi employed in the first movement, but there is a fine sense of ensemble and an exhilarating rush to the double bar. Disappointingly, the slow movement seems a touch mechanical, with little of its pathos externalised. Both the scherzo and finale have a rather four-square quality, with the trio of the former having none of the radiance most performers bring to it, notably the Gaudier Ensemble on Hyperion. Jan Smaczny