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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Piano Quartet No 1 (1942)
Viktor KALABIS (b 1923)

Ludus for Piano Quartet Op 82 (? 1998)
Karel HUSA (b 1921)

Variations for violin, viola, cello and piano (1984)
Martinů Piano Quartet
Bohumil Kotmel (violin), Karel Špelina (viola), Miroslav Petráš (cello) and Emil Leichner (piano)
Recorded in May 2000 in the Domovina Studios, Prague
ARCO DIVA UP 0027-2 131 [58.08]

Arco Diva is steadily building up an impressive body of discs and its greatest strength is in native chamber works. Here we have three Czech Piano Quartets played by one of the best such groups around, one that has as its pianist the distinguished figure of Emil Leichner (who has recorded Martinů’s complete solo piano music for Supraphon. Ed.). It’s appropriate that the disc opens with the quartet’s eponymous hero, Martinů, and his 1942 work written in Long Island. The tense, striving Poco Allegro is delineated with clarity by these players. The writing may be in Martinů’s avowedly motoric style, and with somewhat less individuality than elsewhere, but you’d not really know it from the performance. They bring real lyrical intensity to the Adagio, the piano only joining his string colleagues half way through the movement, applying fresh, rippling figuration amongst the folk-like impress. Leichner, by contrast, takes advantage of the piano’s renewed prominence in the finale by virtue of his imposing and noble playing, richly chordal and romantic. The melodies are here of real elasticity, lines are clear and the group take this movement as asked, at a real Allegretto poco moderato.

Viktor Kalabis wrote Ludus for these players who first performed the one movement twelve and a half minute work in 1998. It’s tightly constructed and full of light and shade. Kalabis balances sections with accustomed acumen, the abrasive with the lyrical and he can also dance with Martinů-like freedom and surge, as he does here albeit briefly. The meditative sections and the strenuous unison writing for strings end in reflection, not quite affirmation. Finally there is Karel Husa’s Variations. Husa has long been resident in America and the Variations, written in 1984, consist of a series of variations on the sound of a bell. This is a substantial twenty-minute multi-partite work that proves more and more invigorating the more one delves into its riches. Though tonal it opens toughly and cultivates some intriguing sonorities – the piano and string sonorities in the First Interlude for example and the heavy-lidded elusive writing surrounding it. Then there are the insistent, almost frantic, bell sonorities of the pensive Adagio, the shuddering Prestissimo section and the elliptical, quizzical ending. It’s jam packed with colour and ear titillating sonorities; it also embraces a wide range of moods and throws up puzzles of tone and mood – well worth getting to know in fact.

A warm welcome to this disc. It has the accustomed good notes and attractive presentation. More than that it has fine music cogently performed.

Jonathan Woolf


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