DVORAK: Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81; Quartet in E-flat, Op. 51; Romance for Violin, Op. 11 – Windscape/ Jeremy Denk, piano/ Daniel Phillips, violin – MSR

by | Feb 18, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

DVORAK: Piano Quintet in A, Op. 81; Quartet in E-flat, Op. 51; Romance for Violin, Op. 11 – Windscape/ Jeremy Denk, piano/ Daniel Phillips, violin – MSR MS 1175, 78:48 ****(*) [Distr. by Albany]:

Lest anyone later claim they were misled, Windscape is a woodwind quintet in residence at the Manhattan School of Music. And yes, these are (shriek!) transcriptions. If you object to this in principle, skip this review and move on. Generally I do and I might. But if you are interested in fine readings of great music regardless of genre, stick around a bit and let me tell you about a really fine disc played to the hilt by some sensational musicians.

First, the arrangements. One must be careful when trying to pull off something like this. It’s not as easy as simply assigning woodwind X to cover string Y and letting it go at that. For if you do, then you run the risk of letting, say, a flute always take the lead line of the first violin, and the color of a flute simply cannot withstand the comparison. The sharing of five among four (not including possible double stops and the harmonic implications thereof) must be done in such a manner as to enhance the arrangement and the music, not simply trying to replicate what the strings do in the woodwind realm. In this regard the transcriptions are very successful, inasmuch as your attention is quickly led away from the fact that these are transcriptions at all, and towards their intense musicality. There is more punch and vigor in these pieces than in the string originals, but as you might expect, a concomitant loss of some warmth as well, and in Dvorak that can be all important. This is why these pieces as presented here will never replace your favorite normal performances, and really should not be expected to. But as music in and of itself, these folks play with the requisite style and swagger needed to successfully sell this music to us, and it works well. The biggest failure, if it can be called such, is the violin Romance; despite some sumptuous playing by Daniel Philips, a certain lushness of sound has been sacrificed in the transferal to winds.

This has been tried before. Laurence Vittes reviewed the Ma’alot Quintet and their traversal of the Op. 96 Quartet on MDG. He was not exactly enthusiastic about it. Since I know that disc, I know what he is talking about, but this one is far more effective. And for those interested, the Schumann Piano Quintet is available with the Ensemble Aventure on an Ars Musici disc in a splendid reading also with winds instead of strings. But if you are looking for a new take on these pieces, or especially if you simply desire to hear some impeccable musicianship, this is for you.

— Steven Ritter
 

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