String Quartet No. 1 (1918)
String Quartet No. 2 (1925)
Tri jezdci (Three Horsemen)
Martinu Quartet - Lubomir
Havlak, Petr Macecek,(violins) Jan Jisa (viola) and Jitka Vlasankova
recorded 23-25/6/97,(Quartet No. 1) and 18-19/2 1997 (remainder) in the Marinek
Studio Prague. DDD
This disc is labelled Volume 1, in what presumably be a multi disc set of
Martinu Chamber Works. It is part of a number of Naxos String Quartet series
which taken as a whole gives the impecunious collector a chance to build
up a very good collection of chamber music at a competitive price.
String Quartet No. 1 was not Martinu's first attempt at writing in the String
Quartet medium, that being the last work on this disc. String Quartet wasn't
even the first quartet completed as with this composer who was almost too
prolific for his own good, there being two quartets finished before this
one which have been lost.
The Quartet now known as String Quartet No. 1 was written in 1918 for a string
quartet made up from players of the Czech Philharmonic, led by Stanislav
Novak, with whom Martinu shared lodgings and who eventually led the orchestra.
Also in the quartet was Ladislav Cerny, who later became leader of the second
violins. The quartet is in four movements the first being relativel short
compared with the third and fourth movements. There are bohemian and french
influences in the work, the latter being a little strange as the composer
did not move to Paris to study with Roussel until 1923.
The String Quartet No. 2 was written in 1925, while the composer was in France,
and heavily under the influence of his teacher there, Albert Roussel. The
first movement, rather than being classical in nature is a continual development
of themes passed from instrument to instrument as the movement progresses.
There is then a slow movement which becomes very serious, and is based distantly
on themes developed in the first movement. The tone then lightens considerably
for the finale which takes the form of a rondo. Themes developed earlier
in the work are presented here and developed still further until the quartet
concludes with a brief and dramatic coda.
The disc is then completed by a performance of Martinu's first work for the
medium, The Three Horsemen. This is a juvenile work in three movements, written
as an essay for string quartet when Martinu was about sixteen and at his
first academic position in Prague.
The performances of all three compositions are first rate, supplemented by
an excellent recording quality. Comparing these performances with those recorded
by the Panocha Quartet for Supraphon, I can see no reason to buy the dearer
set, as the Naxos issue is as good musically, better recorded and much cheaper.
Another view from Colin Clarke
Intelligently planned and musically involving, this is one of the picks of
the crop of Naxos' latest batch of releases. All four members of the Martinu
Quartet studied at the Prague Conservatory and as such lend a special authority
to Bohemian music.
The two quartets are placed first on the disc. Paradoxically, for the music
of a still young man (Martinu was not yet thirty when he wrote it), there
is an autumnal glow to some of the writing in the First Quartet, in particular
the Moderato introduction to the first movement. The sound world is late
Romantic, but without being drenched in heart-on-the-sleeve emotionalism.
Lubomír Havlák (the first violinist) plays with a full-throated
tone where appropriate and the quartet responds intimately to the shifting
If anything, the Second Quartet (of 1925) is even more confident a piece.
There is a barely contained exuberance in the first movement, replete with
galloping rhythms: the Martinu Quartet excels in spotlessly clean articulation
throughout. The composer is experimenting with sparser textures here and
the sense of discovery is communicated well.
'Tri jezdci', written (astonishingly) when Martinu was twelve, is charming
in its simplicity. By placing it at the end of the disc it appears as a breath
of fresh air. Slav-like melodies make up much of the material and it sustains
its twelve-minute duration well. Its atmospheric ending is tremendously
A three-disc set of the Martinu string quartets played by the Panocha Quartet
is available on Supraphon 11 0994-2, but as a single disc at budget price,
this release is unbeatable.