Martinu: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 5

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WORKS: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 5
PERFORMER: Emperor Quartet
Martinu’s seven string quartets act effectively as a map charting an appreciable part of his composing career, from the decidedly Impressionist First of 1918 to the Classically orientated Seventh, composed in 1947. The Fourth and Fifth Quartets, although written within a year of each other in the late Thirties, are surprisingly contrasted: the Fifth, often compared to Bartók’s Third Quartet, is an intense work with an astringency and directness comparable to Martin8’s Double Concerto from the same year; the Fourth, on the other hand, while it approaches the intensity of the Fifth, veers far more often toward tonal lyricism, notably at the close of the first movement and in the exultant central portions of the scherzo. Composed nearly ten years earlier, Martinu’s passionate and dramatic Third Quartet reflects something of the gritty modernism he was cultivating at the end of the Twenties, but also shows him moving towards the more sustained melodic writing he employed in the Thirties. The Emperor Quartet has the measure of these works. The players are particularly impressive in the Fifth Quartet – a very complete interpretation. In the Fourth, they might have made a little more of Martinu’s sprung rhythms and engaged in the care for colour and detail that makes the Martin8 Quartet’s performances on Naxos so winning. They approach that ensemble’s level of excellence in a pungent reading of the Third Quartet, whose bewildering array of textures is excellently captured by the recording. Jan Smaczny