Dvorak: Complete Piano Works / Radoslav Kvapil

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DVO?ÁK Piano Works (Complete) Radoslav Kvapil (pn) SUPRAPHON 4018 (4 CDs: 282:07)

DVO?ÁK Silhouettes, op. 8. 2 Minuets, op. 28. Dumka, op. 35. Theme and Variations, op. 36. Scottish Dances, op. 41. Furiants: in D, op. 42/1; in F, op. 42/2. Waltzes, op. 54. Eclogues, op. 56. Moderato in A, B 116. Album Leaves, B 109. 6 Piano Pieces, op. 52. Mazurkas, op. 56. Impromptu in d, B 129. Dumka, B 136. Furiant, B 137. Humoresque in F?, B 138. Suite in A, op. 98. 2 Piano Pieces, B 188. Humoresques, op. 101. Poetic Moods, op. 85

These recordings have been around for the better part of half a century, having been recorded between 1967 and 1970. It appears that the Fanfare Archive goes back only to 1991, so I don’t know if these discs were ever reviewed separately or as a set in these pages, but what I can tell you is that despite Suprahphon’s claim to the contrary, the contents of this four-disc set are close to but not quite Dvo?ák’s complete works for solo piano. Missing, for example, are the Polka, B 3; the Question , B 128a; and the Two Little Pearls , B 156, all three of which are included in Stefan Veselka’s more comprehensive five-disc collection on Naxos. But then one must allow for the fact that at the time Kvapil recorded these works, Dvo?ák scholarship was still in a state of flux. There were—and still are, to some extent—discrepancies in the dating and numbering of the composer’s works, and it’s possible that 40-plus years ago when these recordings were made, some of the composer’s smaller, miscellaneous works were not known.

It has been often said that Dvo?ák was, at best, a pianist of modest abilities. Or as noted critic Harold Schoenberg said of the composer’s piano concerto, “Dvo?ák wrote an attractive Piano Concerto in G Minor with a rather ineffective piano part.” He was master instead of violin and viola. Thus, his works for keyboard have been largely relegated to secondary status among his output. Most of the pieces fall into basically one of two categories: (1) short sketches gathered together in collections or volumes, such as the Silhouettes, Humoresques, Album Leaves, and Poetic Moods , that evoke a variety of atmospheric states without being explicitly descriptive or programmatic; and (2) genre-specific musical forms, such as the waltzes, mazurkas, and Minuets. A third, miscellaneous category serves to trap the stand-alone pieces, like the Moderato in A Major and the Impromptu in D Minor, as well as the Suite in A Major, the composer’s one attempt at an integrated multimovement work.

Some of the pieces, like the ninth of the Silhouettes , for example, reveal the influence of Schumann, while the virtuosic concluding number in that collection belies a composer who was merely mediocre at the keyboard. If the Scottish Dances were meant to sound Scottish, they don’t, unless this Scot has traded his kilt for a Czech kirtle. And if an eclogue, at least according to the dictionary, is supposed to be “a pastoral or idyllic poem, usually in the form of a dialogue between shepherds,” Dvo?ák’s flock of Eclogues contains some pretty dyspeptic-sounding sheep. The waltzes recall Chopin, while Schumann’s shade once again hovers over the Six Piano Pieces. Chopin is expected in the mazurkas, but he doesn’t show up. Instead, what we get may be, along with the Humoresques , the most Czech-flavored and echt -sounding Dvo?ák in the entire collection. The A-Major Suite may sound familiar to listeners, as it has come to enjoy a degree of popularity in its composer-orchestrated guise. If any composer comes to mind in the Poetic Moods , it would have to be Grieg. The eighth piece in the series, titled “Goblins’ Dance,” is reminiscent of the Norwegian’s gnomes and trolls.

Listening to these four discs, I draw the following conclusions: First, without exception, all of this music is very appealing, and much of it is quite beautiful, something, frankly, I didn’t expect based on received opinion of Dvo?ák’s piano music. Second, based on what seems to me to be the technical difficulties presented to the player by many of these pieces, I suspect that Dvo?ák knew his way around the piano better than we have been led to believe. And third, the composer was clearly influenced by Chopin, Schumann, and Grieg.

As to the performances and recordings, my observations are that Radoslav Kvapil is a superb pianist who manages to capture the character and mood of every single one of these pieces with a perfect combination of technical flair and emotional feeling. And to my ears these four-decade-old recordings sound mint-fresh. Whichever version you acquire Dvo?ák’s piano works I guarantee you will not be disappointed in the music.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SU4018-2

  • UPC: 099925401825

  • Label: Supraphon

  • Composer: Antonín Dvořák

  • Performer: Radoslav Kvapil