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Briefly Noted: Quatuor Thymos

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Dvořák, Piano Quintet (inter alia), A. Kučerová, Quatuor Thymos, C. Eschenbach
(Avie, 2011)
In the midst of the National Symphony Orchestra's preparations for their European tour next month, Christoph Eschenbach is bringing back one of his regular chamber collaborators, the Paris-based Quatuor Thymos. In a concert on the Fortas series this evening, the quartet will perform Schubert's Rosamunde Quartet, recorded on their 2009 disc for the Calliope label, the same composer's Trout Quintet, with Eschenbach and double bassist Yann Dubost, plus a recent string quartet by Olivier Dejours (no. 17, "A Winter's Tale"). Having missed the group's last appearance here, in 2012 at the Kennedy Center, I am glad that the snow from this weekend's blizzard will be cleared away in time. (Their performance of the same program in North Carolina last night was canceled because of the weather.)

The group's second disc, released on the Avie label in 2011, is devoted to the music of Antonín Dvořák. Eschenbach accompanies Slovak soprano Adriana Kučerová in the composer's Love Songs, op. 83, a rendition of some charms but not likely to displace Bernarda Fink (Harmonia Mundi) or Martina Jankova (Supraphon). This selection goes nicely with five movements from Cypresses, Dvořák's arrangement for string quartet of two-thirds of his song set of that name, a piece that is quite pretty played by string quartet. The Thymos Quartet shows off its expressive capabilities in them, but its real mettle is revealed in the A major piano quintet, op. 81, with Eschenbach on the stormy piano part. The piece is one of the gems of the chamber music repertory, and not only just piano quintets, recorded in several excellent versions. Again, the expressive parts of the piece are quite lovely in this rendition, like the mournful "Dumka" second movement, but the playing loses some of its polish in accuracy and intonation at the more strident parts, like the conclusion of the first movement and the intervening sections of the slow movement. Eschenbach, much as he does at the podium of the NSO, looks for extremes of dynamics and expressive rubato, glossing over some of the details in the Furiant movement, and the Thymos musicians are happy enough to go along with him.

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