The top-notch young performers associated in the JOSEF SUK PIANO
QUARTET approach the world of music with humility. They speak about their
teachers with sincere reverence, refer to their idols as masters with a capital
M, and deem concerts and presentations to be honourable undertakings … The
violinist Radim Kresta, the violist Eva Krestová, the cellist Václav Petr and
the pianist Václav Mácha have won a number of international competitions, and
their performances at home and abroad have met with great acclaim. The perfectly
co-ordinated ensemble have just completed for Supraphon an album featuring
ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK’S AND JOSEF SUK’S PIANO QUARTETS (SU 4227–2). We
discussed the new CD with Eva Krestová and Radim Kresta.
Your present album pays tribute to the abundant Czech chamber music
tradition. Which figures or ensembles do you most cherish?
Radim: Logically, we have linked up to that which we have learned from our
teachers. I was a pupil of Professor Václav Snítil; he was an amazing person,
a member of the Vlach Quartet, the Czech Nonet and the Smetana Trio. Eva studied
with Professor Jindřich Pazdera, a member of the Stamic Quartet. Václav Petr
was a pupil of Professors Michal Kaňka and Daniel Weiss, while Vašek Mácha
studied with Maestro Ivan Moravec. All of them towering figures, each of them
inspired us with something. What is more, throughout our studies we were in
contact with the violin virtuoso Maestro Josef Suk.
Did you know Josef Suk well?
Radim: He did not overly devote to teaching. His most renowned student was the
superb virtuoso Ivan Ženatý, which is audible when he plays. I also used to
meet Maestro Josef Suk in connection with my chamber orchestra. I had the
honour to work with him. What is more, Suk made a major impact both on
violinists and ensembles through the Suk Trio’s splendid recordings of
seminal chamber music. By and large, he has thus influenced us too.
Dvořák’s Piano Quartet No. 2 is an extensive and challenging
piece. Which part of it do you like the most, and which is the most difficult to
Eva: Each of the quartet members may like different parts of the work. The
second movement opens with a splendid cello solo, so I think that Vašek Petr
probably likes this very section the most, whereas I, as a violist, am really
fond of the third movement, as it is highly articulated, joyous and poetic.
Radim: Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Quartet No.2 is exceptional, as well as
difficult to perform. I perceive it in relation to other pieces. For instance,
we have frequently played the opus alongside Johannes Brahms’s Piano Quartet
No. 1. Both of them are colossal: Dvořák’s piece lasts almost 38,
Brahms’s 43 minutes.
Radim: When it comes to the Brahms quartet, its form and structure is
astounding, it is a single “grand temple”, virtually a large symphony.
Dvořák’s quartet too has a sophisticated form, yet it is a work of a
starkly different ilk, with everything in it primarily governed by inspiration.
The composer himself said that the themes kept rolling in, so many of them and
so quickly that he could hardly manage to write them down.
How does it vent itself during performance?
Radim: At first glance, Dvořák’s piece may seem to be somewhat simpler than
that of Brahms. But appearances can be deceptive! There is a catch: the work
cannot be performed without “added value”. You may play everything, each and
every one of the notes correctly, but that still wouldn’t be doing it justice.
If your performance lacks something that simply strikes your heart, it is not
“complete”. On the other hand, Brahms’s music, which we find amazing and
which we love and really enjoy playing, can be delivered precisely as it is
written. Dvořák must be performed with a particular empathy, you should bear
in mind that you are doing it so as to warm someone’s heart, so as to pass on
the emotions it harbours.
Eva: That is perhaps also the answer to the question of what makes the piece so
difficult to interpret. In addition to learning the intonation, it is extremely
challenging to express its extraordinary emotionality, while retaining the
You have said that the piano quartet is an ideal formation, since it
provides numerous options to a chamber music lover. And it can virtually
replicate a whole orchestra.
Eva: Yes, absolutely, since the piano is capable of encompassing plenty of
harmonies peculiar to the orchestra. The piano and the strings are able to
create many timbres, which can be additionally worked with. Attaining this may
be more difficult for us, yet when it turns out well it’s just fabulous!
Radim: The quartet can also express an utterly intimate atmosphere owing to the
strings. On the other hand, thanks to the piano we can also play dynamically
monumental passages. That is why we deem the piano quartet a formation ideal for
the chamber music experience.
You have been a flexible ensemble, performing in all kinds of
Radim: Yes, we have also performed at concerts as a duo, string or piano trio.
In the formations that suggest themselves, the combinations the organisers wish
to have on the stage. We have even performed as soloists within a single
evening, each of us appearing accompanied by a chamber orchestra.
Josef Suk’s Piano Quartet, featured on your new album, has an
intriguing first movement, coming across as an explosion of a passionate youth.
The initial impression is that the music is totally different from Antonín
Dvořák’s piece. Yet the movements that follow comprise lyricism, delicate
poetics. How do you perceive the differences and similarities between Suk and
Radim: Suk wrote his quartet under the supervision of Dvořák, who, however,
afforded him great freedom – and it is evident in the music! In a way, he
respected the emotionally charged 17-year-old. When we were exploring the
work – which he have actually been doing ever since our
quartet’s foundation – we faced a problem. The first theme, as you
yourself said, is an explosion. It possesses an immense dynamism, it is
torrential music. Right at the beginning, we had to bear in mind the sound of
the following movements. We had to find, discover diverse moments in the
composition. It takes some time for the music to mature within the performers,
for them to be able to approach the explosive elements with a distance, while
also being able to express the innermost emotions in the more tranquil
Eva: It has often been mentioned that Suk was composing the work under
Dvořák’s guidance, yet Dvořák did approve the passages that are in places
overly forced (the dynamic marking fff often appears in the notation). And he
let them be, even though, a mature and seasoned chamber music composer himself,
Dvořák would have not written it that way. I have the feeling that he
supported Suk’s youthful passion and turbulence, letting him pursue his
You have succeeded in prestigious competitions. Which of the numerous
accolades you have received have been the most significant for your
Eva: Perhaps the victory in the Premio Trio di Trieste, owing to which we gained
an agency representation and were invited to give concerts abroad.
Radim: Yes, this competition, one of the most prestigious ones for chamber
ensembles featuring a piano, was very important indeed. The victory was really
instrumental in enhancing our international career.
Before you assumed the moniker Josef Suk Piano Quartet, you were
called Ensemble Taras. Why Taras?
Radim: Upon founding a piano trio, more than a decade ago, I was seeking an apt
name for it. It was an extremely lengthy process. After having gone through all
the available dictionaries, I had failed to find a suitable name, so I decided
to choose it according to what or whom I really like. And I simply love Leoš
Janáček’s music, his Taras Bulba in particular …
Of course, Taras, it should have occurred to me! The trio soon
expanded and then would continue as a piano quartet up to the present day. And
you named it after the violinist Josef Suk.
Radim: We were suggested the name by the Czech Chamber Music Society, with the
kind permission of Marie Suková, the virtuoso’s widow. The Suk Trio, whom we
have had the honour of succeeding, was a true phenomenon, the embodiment of an
immense and celebrated chamber tradition. And a great responsibility for us, so
we must do our utmost to do justice to our name…
What plans do you have for the next few months?
Eva: At the end of August and the beginning of September, we are scheduled to
tour Japan, which we are really looking forward to, especially because together
with the Panocha Quartet we will be performing Dvořák’s sextet. And we will
also play Dvořák’s and Suk’s piano quartets. Moreover, we are schedule
to give concerts in Italy and Slovakia, as well as in Prague, within the Days of
Contemporary Music. In the spring of 2018, we will embark on a tour of
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