Encore: Finding an answer to Dvorak's "Question"


A new CD brings Dvorak's piano compositions to a broader audience; the Smetana Trio revives Novak's Trio in D minor, and a historic Prague Spring recording is available at last.

A new CD of Dvorak for the piano

We open today with a question - that is Antonin Dvorak's tiny fragment of a piece entitled 'Otazka', or Question, as performed by pianist Tomas Visek on his new CD called Antonin Dvorak for Young Pianists. But the real question is why don't we hear more solo piano music by Dvorak? The piano was, after all, the bread-and-butter instrument for composers of that period, as people had pianos in their homes for entertainment, and publishers did well keeping them supplied with attractive music.

In fact Dvorak wrote a good number of piano pieces, but the only really the well-known one is the Humoresque in G flat major, which few people realize he composed.

There are several reasons for this. For one thing, Dvorak was a violist, and while he was also a good pianist, he was not a professional one, and his piano writing does not always lie easily under the hands, nor does the instrument resound at its best in the way it does with, say, Rachmaninoff or Chopin. This is the opposite of what you find with his string writing, which is idiomatic and fluent and sonorous (and at which neither Rachmaninoff nor Chopin excelled).

Some of Dvorak's piano work is awkward to play, but not because the writing is virtuosically difficult. This is never the case, which, paradoxically, is another drawback to greater fame, because concert pianists are not going to tour with music that their audience's kids can bang out at home.

Tomas Visek has designed this CD especially for young pianists, having selected 37 pieces that he says, in a very endearing introduction in the booklet, student pianists can play. The CD is on the Rosa Classic label.

A real find: the Smetana Trio records Novak's Trio in D minor

We turn now to one of Dvorak's students, Vitezslav Novak. Earlier this year we featured his tone poem, In the Tatra Mountains. Now the Smetana Trio, comprised of Jan Palenicek, cello, his wife Jitka Cechova, piano and Jana Novakova, violin, has put out a new disk with Novak's single movement Trio in D minor, quasi una ballata, which was written in the same year as In the Tatra Mountains. It's a real find, a very dramatic work, in several sections. The CD on the Supraphon label also includes trios by Bedrich Smetana and by Dvorak's other successful student and son-in-law Josef Suk.

A historic Prague Spring recording available at last

Keeping things in the family, we also have a new Supraphon disk of a historic concert at the 1992 Prague Spring festival of a recital given by Dvorak's great-grandson, violinist Josef Suk, performing with the late pianist Rudolf Firkusny. This was just three years after the fall of communism and for many years Firkusny had not been able to perform here in his homeland.

The disk contains Dvorak's Sonatina for violin and piano, which he wrote for his children, Brahms' d minor sonata, Beethoven's second G major sonata, and Janacek's sonata for violin and piano. The choice of Janacek is apt, as Firkusny received some musical guidance fro

CDs reviewed in this programme are provided by Siroky Dvur