Album detail
Catalogue number: SU 4227-2

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 perform?
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 composition’s or­der.

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 configurations.
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 Dvořák?
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 passages.
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 own path.

You have succeeded in prestigious competitions. Which of the numerous accolades you have received have been the most significant for your international career?
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 Brazil.

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