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Dvorak Complete Solo Piano Music - Stefan Veselka

Naxos 8.505205 [5 hours]

This intégrale was recorded by a pianist not known to me, Norwegian born of Czech parents, between 1995-1999 in Oslo,, Stavanger and Berlin. The opportunity for collectors to acquire the complete, little known piano music of a favourite composer at budget price was attractive, but I have to confess a certain resistance to intégrales, and that I have not succeeded in listening to all five hours.

Many of these sets of pieces were, I believe, market-driven by publishers, at a time when orchestral performances were relatively infrequent and inaccesible for many music lovers.

Naxos often takes great trouble with presentation, but not so here. The cover montage illustrated shows that the same portrait was used throughout, which augured ill. Inside, an identical biographical note by Keith Anderson fills every first page, and the pianist's biography and his brief introduction to Dvorak's piano music (reminding us that only one Humoresque has held a place in the repertoire) is similarly duplicated through each volume, with half a page added on the specific items.

Before investing in the boxed set I would, if they are still available separately, recommend trying Volume 4 first (8.557476), the one with that Humoresque (No 7 in Gb major) included. They show some American influence (pentatonic melodies, diminished sevenths) and a general good humour. The Silhouettes are interesting as exemplifying Dvorak's recycling procedures, many of them more familiar in the first two symphonies and the song cycle and string quartet Cypresses. The Mazurkas were conceived as Scottish dances, which is rather bizarre, and in these performances display none of the rhythmic finesse of Chopin's Polish mazurkas.

My overall impression, subject to correction and other responses, is that on this showing Veselka is a rather stolid, unimaginative pianist, going through his self appointed task dutifully, but without really bringing this recacitrant oeuvre to life. One for the library.

© Peter Grahame Woolf