Recorded in Prague April and June 2005, these two standard Brahms chamber works leap through your audio system and compel your attention. I find the warm ambiance of the Prazak Quartet (estab. 1978) as riveting as anything I have heard by the Guarneri Quartet, even by my old standard for the B-flat Major, the Primrose Quartet. The second theme of the opening Vivace movement communicates heart-breaking restraint. Josef Kluson’s viola work in the Andante is an object lesson in poised phrasing. The other strings, con sordino, provide some ravishing effects. The delicacy of attack and articulation, again led by the viola’s broad tone, projects the perfect autumnal sensibility for Brahms in the agitated Allegretto. The more passionate episode becomes an elegy in colors. The last movement, a Poco allegretto with eight variations, again provides the viola to lead the procession of invention and facile beauty. The original Vivace theme reappears in the seventh variant, a bit of hasty cyclicism in festive tones. Vaclav Remes’ concertante violin makes a piercing impression, in the manner of a Schubert rondo with chamber ensemble. The exuberant coda arrives all too quickly, the sumptuous strains of the entire piece lingering in the ear long after the final chord.
The 1861 Piano Quintet and I are old friends, my having first heard it with the likes of Clifford Curzon and Rudolf Serkin, then with Leon Fleischer. Ivan Klansky and the Prazak Quartet keep a tight grip on this most Schubertian of Brahms chamber works, a tension-filled rendition whose fortes explode with fierce determination. The modulations of the second theme in C Sharp Minor project pungently in surround sound, the sonic separation still allowing the piano to appear in concerted rather than concerto form. Nice interplay between upper strings, cello, and piano. The lovely modulations of the Andante un poco adagio, colorful alternations of A-flat and E Major on an impulse from Schubert‚s song “Pause,” provide cellist Michal Kanka some distinct, expressive opportunities. Klansky’s capacities for tender lyricism have been noted in my review of his Mozart D Minor Concerto with Belohlavek on EuroArts DVD. The Bismarckian syncopations of the Scherzo remove the velvet gloves, and the brittle, percussive insistence from Klansky’s piano sweeps us along in the C Minor throes of Fate. Wonderfully liquid, resonant pizzicati in the trio section to accompany Klansky’s hefty ostinati. The opening of the Finale well indicates how the Prazak might play Schoenberg and Bartok, before we modulate to the dominant C Minor and the main triplet theme, taken from Schubert’s Grand Duo. Kanka’s cello sails into your aural space, followed by Klansky at his most persuasive. Wicked attacks ensue, then the hybrid interweaving of rondo, sonata, and variation forms which propel the materials forward. The sense of inevitability clamps down until the coda, mysterioso, a spasm of sweeping and tumultuous passion to the convulsive march that ends a volcanic, gripping performance of a revered staple in the Brahms canon.