Schubert Ensemble of London

Dvorák: Piano Quintet; Piano Quartet

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Dvorák's popular Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 87, and Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Op. 81, have received numerous performances by Czech ensembles, as well as plenty of foreigners who have attained fluency in the received Czech style (or not). This fine release by Britain's Schubert Ensemble takes the step of defining a non-Czech way of playing Dvorák, with fresh and persuasive results. The players are circumspect and precise in the classic British style, but what they do is bold: they reduce the emphasis on the Czech rhythms in the music, turning them into accents rather than structural determinants. It's not the usual way of playing these pieces, but Dvorák's audiences approached his music with that of Brahms in mind, not that of Bartók, and these readings make sense. The delicate passages in the slow movements and in the scherzos (in the Piano Quartet they are on the outside, not in the center) are magical, and in fact the many small rhythmic details in the opening movements are enhanced rather than obscured by this version. The music here is really chamber-sized, not amped-up in the piano to fill a symphony hall, and the engineering is perfectly attunted to the performers' goals. Maybe not the only way with these works ("lively" would be the description rather than "joyous"), but well worth the time of any lover of Romantic chamber music.

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