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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Trio in F minor, Op.65, B.130 (1882/83) [39:19]
Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81, B.155 (1887) [30:36]
Czech Trio
Ondříček Quartet
Jan Heřman (piano)
rec. 1941 (Quintet), 1951 (Trio)

These two classic Dvořák performances were released on 78s and subsequently transferred to LP, from which these new CD restorations derive. Of the two it’s the trio performance that is the better known and the more recent, having been recorded in Prague in 1951 and released on Supraphon. The wartime Piano Quintet was released on Esta and transferred to a Mercury LP.

The Czech trio of 1951 lined up Alexandr Plocek (violin), Miloš Sádlo (cello) and Josef Páleníček (piano) and their thoroughly idiomatic, beautifully phrased and perfectly paced reading of the Op.65 was the go-to version before the arrival of the Suk Trio LP – this applied to the Dumky trio as well, recorded by both ensembles. True, the recording rendered Plocek’s tone a little thin and Sádlo’s cello a touch boomy but the balance remains fine and Páleníček is, as ever, a tower of strength, showing just how to measure out the gradients of the opening Allegro. The exchanges between the string players in the Allegretto are the epitome of elegance and grace, rhythms supple and alive, the expressive eloquence of the slow movement coming as no surprise, all cantilena and reserved piano tolling.

The companion work features the greatest Czech pianist of the first half of the twentieth century, Jan Heřman and one of the country’s leading quartets, the Ondříček. A lesser group, perhaps, than the Prague whose recordings won an international reputation on the HMV label the Ondříček seems to have been orientated rather more for home consumption, though when Mercury picked up the recordings they became better known. The American label’s engineering skills were sorely tested and sometimes found wanting. There’s a glaring side join mishap along the way and the sonics are inclined to favour higher frequencies so the result imparts a certain shrillness to the corporate tone of the quartet. But the performance itself, despite some caveats, is a fine one - even if cellist Bedřich Jaroš has a slow vibrato - being sensitive, lively, nuanced and bucolically inventive. The star performer is of course Heřman, a stylish, and acutely perceptive exponent of this repertoire. He was to die in 1946 and it would be good to think that some label would transfer all his solo recordings commercially.

FR has done the very best it can with the LP transfers and the only alternative would have been to have sourced and used the 78s instead. Both performances are historically valuable and interpretatively convincing; cornerstone surveys of the historic wing of Czech chamber music on disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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