Wednesday 8th January 2014


Suk – Piano Quartet in E minor op. 1

Martinu – Piano Quartet no.1 (1942)

Dvorák – Piano Quartet no.2 in E flat op. 87

The Frith Piano Quartet was formed in 2000 by the pianist Benjamin Frith, with Robert Heard, violin, Louise Williams, viola, and Richard Jenkinson, cello. Since its formation the group have performed the complete piano quartets of Brahms, Dvorák, Fauré and Mozart but also take a keen interest in bringing to light gems not so often heard in the concert hall.

An all Czech programme: Suk was a pupil of Dvorák and his tuneful and rhapsodic early piano quartet owes much to his teacher, who later became his father-inlaw. Although born in Bohemia, Martinu was forced to flee to the USA in 1941. Written there, his piano quartet combines rhythmically driven music with poignant and heartfelt melodies. Dvorák wrote of his piano quartet that it “came easily and the melodies just surged upon me, thank God” – how right he was.


A Life Enhancing Celebration of Bohemian Music

We had already enjoyed three very different and equally superb concerts this season and this one more than maintained the standard set so far; your reviewer will soon be running out of superlatives. The Frith Piano Quartet was formed to explore this relatively rare medium, and two of the items played were rarities; brave choices that the audience responded to enthusiastically. They cleverly unified their programme by featuring music only by Bohemian composers.

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The first rarity was by Joseph Suk, his opus one. It is no student effort but a fully fledged composition that the players presented with absolute conviction. The busy piano part is almost always subsidiary and Ben Frith’s playing of it was tireless. Throughout the concert, with the piano lid fully open he never drowned out his colleagues. Richard Jenkinson’s cello solo in the central slow movement was wonderfully expressive and the brilliant finale was given a full-blooded performance.

The cellist spoke to us engagingly about the Martinů quartet. In this work the pianist has a much more up-front role which he made the most of, and the composer’s very individual mixture of tension and lyricism was well caught by all the players. The opening of the slow movement is a long sad passage for just the strings that could present many problems of intonation, but they were effortlessly surmounted by violinist Robert Heard and his colleagues. The changing moods of the finale were strongly projected with fearless attack in the more tense central section before the return of the happy syncopations so typical of this composer. Judging by its reception, this performance gave many audience members a new composer friend.

The Dvorak Piano Quartet is a much more familiar item and this most musically generous work was played with total understanding of its Slavonic nature. Louise Williams seized her many opportunities in the viola part with relish. No more need be said, it was a vivid and loving performance of a great piece. Thank you all.


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Recommended Recordings


Suk and Martinu

A very useful full price CD on the Dorian label, DOR 93261, couples the Suk with the Martinu Piano Quartet in good performances, well recorded, by the Ames Piano Quartet. Another Czech Piano Quartet by Viteslav Novák completes the disc.

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An excellent alternative, performed by the Nash Ensemble on the budget Helios Label, CDH 55416, includes the Suk Piano Quintet and Pieces for Violin and Piano. The recording quality is very good.


As an alternative to the Dorian disc above a group, including Daniel Adni (piano) and Isabelle Van Keulen (violin), perform the work on an all Martinu CD, including the Quartet for Oboe, Violin, Cello & Piano, The String Quintet and Violin Sonata No.1. The budget Naxos disc, 8.553916, is well recorded.


The two lovely Piano Quartets are superbly performed in excellent sound by Domus on Hyperion CDA 66288 (full price). The very fine alternative budget Naxos CD, 8.572169, has the same works performed by Helena Sucharova-Weiser (piano) and the Vlach Quartet Prague.

Raymond Waud.

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