Radu PALADI (1927-2013)
String Quartet No.1 in C minor (1956) [23:42]
Zdeněk FIBICH (1850-1900)
String Quartet No.2 in G major Op.8 H.252 (1878) [27:35]
Martfeld Quartet
rec. Immanuelskirche Wupperthal, Germany 28 and 29 June 2015
reviewed in surround

On their website Coviello Classics state that "In order to give fresh impetus to the classical market, Coviello Classics releases rarely performed compositions, often in world-premičre recordings, invariably resulting in unexpected discoveries." They have achieved rarity with this issue, especially with Paladi. Radu Paladi is very far from a household name, indeed his Wikipedia page is only in Romanian. He does not figure at all on Wikipedia's list of Romanian musicians. So, to fill the gap: Paladi was a leading 20th century Romanian composer, pianist, conductor and teacher. He was born in Storojinetz, now in the Ukraine, in 1927. He studied at the Conservatory in Bucharest. He composed two string quartets, a wind quintet, piano music, piano and violin concertos, choral music and music for stage and film. His Violin Concerto dates from 2002 but most of the output listed online dates from the middle years of his composing career. He seems to have had performances of his music in Romania throughout his life. He died in quite recently in Bucharest in 2013. On the evidence of this quartet he avoided the extremes of the avant-garde and stuck firmly to neo-classical structures whilst using Romanian dance and folk rhythms. The sonata form first movement of his quartet opens with a torrent of urgent ideas with a strong use of folk-dance rhythms but some quite extreme harmonies edging quite close to atonality. The Andante cantabile also has an attractive edginess. The lively finale contains more than a hint of Bartók and one is also reminded of his older compatriot George Enescu. These family resemblances add up to a most enjoyable quartet which really should not continue to be neglected. I am left wondering what his other music is like.

Zdeněk Fibich was a contemporary of both Smetana and Dvořák but probably failed to achieve their status because of his weaker links to Czech nationalism. He was educated in Germany, France and Austria as well as Bohemia and whilst his music has a Czech flavour it is more centred in German romanticism. That said he should not be seen as a minor figure and this attractive quartet, his second, makes for the most enjoyable listening. The opening allegro moderato has a real sense of direction. The adagio is a beautiful creation almost as melodically distinctive as Dvořák's quartets of this period and neither the scherzo nor the finale would have disgraced the master's pen. There is an alternative recording available on Orfeo from the Kocian Quartet but that is not an SACD. So far as I can see this disc brings the total of Fibich SACDs to three: this one, a Praga Digitals disc of Czech piano trios and a violin and piano recital on Quintone. Plenty of his orchestral output, including his three symphonies, plus his opera Šárka and several chamber pieces, are easily available on standard CDs. Readers who enjoy Dvořák and Smetana would do well to investigate Fibich.

The Martfeld Quartet is a well established team that has been playing together since the 1980s; yet this seems to be one of only two CDs they have in the current catalogue. They are very good indeed and those exploring this fairly, one might say very, obscure repertoire will find themselves in safe hands. Coviello Classics has made a fine recording with all the clarity and depth one could wish.

Dave Billinge


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