Martinu: Serenade No. 1; Serenade No. 2; Serenade No. 3; Serenade No. 4; Quartet for Clarinet, Horn, Cello & Side Drum

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COMPOSERS: Martinu
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: Serenade No. 1; Serenade No. 2; Serenade No. 3; Serenade No. 4; Quartet for Clarinet, Horn, Cello & Side Drum
PERFORMER: Villa Musica Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 304 0774-2
The prolific Czech composer has been keenly recorded in the homeland where he spent so little of his life, but is only now beginning to reach the full international status he deserves. This disc plunges in at the deeper end with profound, vintage late Martinu – the last of his four Serenades. More elusive than its three irreproachably shaped and delightful predecessors, it looks forward to the composer’s greatest orchestral masterpiece, the Fantaisies symphoniques, with its exceptionally plastic use of harmony and its syncopated, leaping dance themes occasionally running up against terror, homesickness or doubt. In the scherzo, Martinu’s almost painful radiance triumphs: you may have to reduce the volume as the two clarinets soar, but the truthful concert-hall acoustics can’t be faulted.

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The Quartet of 1923 is almost as fascinating: the clarinet on top briefly suggests Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale, but the way the side drum calls the changing rhythms in the outer movements, and the cello’s changing shape in the Andante, both declare the younger Martinu’s individuality. Several well-known names among the ensemble confirmed initial impressions of chamber playing of the first order, and the careful programming is a delight. David Nice