DVORAK'S 16 Slavonic Dances -- eight in Op. 46, eight in Op. 72 -- have become so popular in the composer's brilliant orchestral settings (though they are not heard nearly enough in "serious" concerts) that his original versions for piano duet are heard even less frequently than Mussorgsky's original version of "Pictures at an Exhibition" for piano solo. We tend to regard the four-hand versions, perhaps, as intended primarily for home entertainment, but this is not entirely true, and the music is certainly worth hearing in this form when it is performed as attractively as it is by the brothers Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky on Deutsche Grammophon 2531.349 (cassette 3301.349).
The Kontarskys put us in their debt a few years back with a splendid two-disc survey of Ravel's and Debussy's music for piano duet and for two pianos, and then with a single LP of Brahms' 21 Hungarian Dances. In the Dvorak they exhibit a bit less in the way of lilt and brightness than we heard from Jean-Philippe Collard and Michel Be'roff on their now deleted Connoisseur Society disc, but their more relaxed tempos are all to the good and their inflection throughout the 16 dances seems more convincingly "Slavonic." Certainly the fine sound and up-to-date edition used for these performances makes the new release preferable to its only current rival, the old Brendel/Klien (Turnabout TV 34060), even though the new DG costs about twice as much.
More pianists, and more pianos, are heard on a digitally recorded disc of Mozart's two multiple-keyboard concertos, the one in E-flat for two pianos, K. 365, and the one in F major for three pianos, K. 242. Christoph Eschenbach and Justus Frantz, the soloists in K. 365, are joined at the third piano in K. 242 by Helmut Schmidt, the former West German chancellor. Eschenbach also conducts the London Philharmonic in both works (Angel DS-37903).
Schmidt, a competent amateur pianist and an old friend of Frantz's, was persuaded to take part because sales of this record are to benefit Amnesty International. K. 242 was actually written for competent amateurs (the Countess Lodron and her daughters), and it fares well here, but there is a good deal more to enjoy, in both works, in the "family" performances conducted by Yehudi Menuhin on the economical Seraphim S-60072. K. 365 is still better served by another family team, Emil Gilels and his daughter Elena, with Karl Boehm and the Vienna Philharmonic (DG 2530.456, with Emil Gilel's poetic performance of the solo Concerto No. 27 in B-flat, K. 595), and perhaps better still by the aforementioned Alfred Brendel and Walter Klien, in their oldish but cherishable account with Paul Angerer conducting (Turnabout TV 34064, with the two-piano Sonata, K. 448, and the Fugue in C minor, K. 426).
Dispensing with the piano altogether and moving back to Dvorak's home town, we have two new records of Mozart symphonies played by the Czech Philharmonic, and a third under one of that orchestra's illustrious former conductors. Under its present conductor, Zdenek Kosler, the Czech Philharmonic gives absolutely superb performances of Nos. 35 in D ("Haffner") and 36 in C ("Linz") on a Supraphon import (1110.2806) that also shows Czech engineering and pressing quality rising to match almost anything Western Europe can offer.
Kosler's "Haffner" is especially fetching -- robust, joyous, warmhearted, thoroughly musical. The only drawback on this disc is the gratuitous inconvenience of having the final movement of the "Linz" on side two with the entire "Haffner." This does not happen on Rafael Kubelik's digitally recorded disc of the same two symphonies, with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (CBS IM 36729; cassette HMT 36729).
Kubelik gives us a quite stylishly moving, almost brisk pace -- but with full repeats. I give Kosler a slight edge, particularly in the minuets of both symphonies, but Kubelik has the advantage of a more convenient side layout and stunning digital sound.
On a German import (Eurodisc 200 150-366; cassette 400 150-371), Wolfgang Sawallisch conducts the Czech Philharmonic in the Symphonies Nos. 38 in D ("Prague") and 39 in E-flat. These performances are far less persuasive than Kosler's and Kubelik's. Sawallisch is generous with repeats in the opening movements and the finales as well, but his fiery approach is so thoroughly unsmiling that one wonders if this can be the same musician who gave us that marvelous set of the Schumann symphonies (Arabesque) and, as pianist, the endearing performance of Schubert's "Trout" Quintet (also Eurodisc). The sound quality, too, is less attractive than that of Kosler's Supraphon.