Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Brilliant Classics

Czech Masters: Complete String Quartets of Smetana, Janáček and Martinů
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
String Quartet No. 1 French (1925?) [30.02]
String Quartet No. 2 (1927) [19.07]
String Quartet No. 3 (1929) [12.18]
String Quartet No. 4 (1937) [19.40]
String Quartet No. 5 (1938) [26.04]
String Quartet No. 6 (1946) [21.55]
String Quartet No. 7 Concerto da Camera (1947) [21.02]
Madrigals for violin and viola (1947) [15.56]
String Trio (1934) [14.39]
Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)

String Quartet No. 1 in E minor From My Life (1879) [29.53]
String Quartet No. 2 in D minor (1882) [18.52]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)

String Quartet No. 1 Kreutzer Sonata (1923) [17.01]
String Quartet No. 2 Intimate Letters (1928) [19.31]
Stamitz Quartet (Bohuslav Matoušek (violin I), Josef Kekula (violin II), Jan Pěruška (viola); Vladimir Leixner (cello))
rec. Oct 1988-1990. Prague, DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 6473 [5CDs: 49.14 + 42.50 + 72.44 + 68.40 + 52.20]


You can't really go wrong with this collection. The only thing you will have to struggle with is your incredulity that such fine recordings and interpretations are being offered at less than Ł5 per disc. If you live in the UK it seems likely (given reports that Brilliant's Shostakovich symphonies are now going for a fiver in Superdrug) that the set will turn up eventually at Ł1 per disc or less.

The Martinůs were first issued in a boxed collection in 1991 by Bayer Records who licensed the masters to Brilliant. I have sample-compared the original Bayers (which I see I bought for Ł26.99) with the new Brilliant set. They sound identical. Heck you don't even lose out on the booklet notes. The ones in the Brilliant Box are exactly the same ones written by Dr Milan Slavicky for the Bayer box except that the notes are only in English - no German or French.

There is no box in direct competition with this one. The closest we come to that is Supraphon's complete Martinů quartets in AAD sound on 11 0994-2 with the Panocha Quartet. There is little to choose between the two. There is as much buoyant life in the Panochas as in the Stamitzes. If there is a difference it is down to the fact that the Panocha cycle was recorded between 1979 and 1982. Their sound is a little pinched by comparison with the ample tone of the Bayer and Brilliant sound. The Stamitz also tend to be slower by seconds than the Panocha on Quartets one to three but things reverse for four to seven.

In addition to the highly competitive, indeed superior, Martinů cycle you also get both pairs of string quartets from Smetana and Janáček. They are recorded rather closely so I am not sure that we are getting the best effect and this continuous proximity limits the atmosphere that can be achieved. These are, I would say, good performances rather than Hall of Fame material - never less than perceptive and polished and done with feeling but lacking that quality to deeply move or astonish. Not revelatory but performances that would satisfy if you heard them at a concert.

This represents a superb Martinů cycle ... probably the market leader although you will want to compare the Naxos CDs which are available separately which I have not heard but have been acclaimed by many critics. The Smetana and Janáček are good library recordings if not ‘Hall of Fame’ material. That said I was really struck by the lilting pace of the Presto-Allegro of the Second Smetana Quartet.

Rob Barnett



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