Martinu: String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 5; String Quartet No. 7 (Concerto da camera)

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COMPOSERS: Martinu
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 5; String Quartet No. 7 (Concerto da camera)
PERFORMER: MartinuÞ Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553784
This third volume completes the Martinu Quartet’s series of their namesake composer’s quartets. Martinu’s Fourth and Fifth Quartets were written a year apart in Paris in the late Thirties. Although both works are touched by the urgency which marks much of Martinu’s music composed shortly before the Second World War, the Fourth has a softer profile and inclines toward the folk accent he cultivated throughout the Thirties. The Fifth, widely regarded as his greatest contribution to the form, is dark and intense, not just shadowed by the imminence of war – a feature which draws it close to the musical world of his great Double Concerto for strings, piano and timpani – but by Martinu’s love for his pupil, the composer Vítezslava Kaprálová; their sometimes turbulent relationship can be sensed in many parts of this remarkable quartet. Composed in 1947, the Seventh Quartet, a kind of hommage à Haydn, does not plumb the Angst-ridden depths of the Fifth, but it approaches profundity in the slow movement and throughout is superbly written for the medium.

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The Martinu Quartet, one of the most promising of a generation of young Czech quartets founded in the Eighties, understands this repertoire completely. Both the competing complete sets, by the Panocha and Stamitz Quartets, have much to recommend them, but the Martinu Quartet, in nearly every particular, goes a stage further, notably in the intensity the players bring to the rhythmic structures of the Fifth and their inspired way with the humour and lyricism of the Seventh. Jan Smaczny