Janáček; Martinu

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Janáček; Martinu
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Janáček: String Quartets Nos 1 & 2; Martinu: String Quartet No. 3
PERFORMER: Doric Quartet

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Two generations ago Janáček’s String Quartets were something of a rarity on the concert platform. These days, no self-respecting quartet is without them in their repertoire and the result has been a host of excellent recordings. By any standard, the Doric Quartet’s of Janáček’s First Quartet is magnificent. Their profound understanding of the work probes its dramatic roots – many deriving from The Cunning Little Vixen – and they are not afraid to confront the harshness of some of the instrumentation, notably in the second and third movements. Even more impressive is their flawless control of line, encompassing almost vocal rhetoric in the outer movements against a slowly developing background argument. This is altogether a considered and deeply rewarding account.

Their reading of Quartet No. 2 is not on quite the same level, though it is always engaging, not least in the haunting lullaby of the third movement in which they deploy a captivating sense of timing. Unfortunately, while they show dramatic engagement throughout, the crucial climax of the finale lacks a feeling of true catharsis.

Written hardly more than a year after Janáček’s Second Quartet, Martinu’s Third occupies an entirely different world. Drawn to study in Paris in the 1920s, Martinu was clearly bowled over by the city’s embrace of modernism, with jazz and Stravinsky evident influences. The Doric Quartet slip effortlessly into the driving rhythms of the work while also relishing its occasional ironies.

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Jan Smaczny