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Holstian time-warp

Martinu from the quartet bearing his name -

'... played with appealing clarity.'

Martinu String Quartets Volume 3. © 2002 HNH International Ltd

If any quartet should be able to approach Martinu's quartets with quiet confidence and play them competently, it's the ensemble that bears his name. That said, I wasn't entirely convinced by all of these readings. It's difficult to believe that with a judicious sifting through rival recordings by the Stamitz, the Panocha or the Prazak Quartets one might not better some of them individually. But given that Naxos's prices make this label the perfect way to sample a composer, there's enough to be said for giving these versions a try.

The music is worth it : I'm not one of those who dismisses Martinu as a mere notespinner. The idea has been applied disparagingly to many a prolific composer, from (even) Haydn to Hindemith. Arguably it's the very first movement, the opening allegro of No 4 which gave me initial pause for thought : an intricate skein of shifting rhythms and thrown beats, which I felt this quartet hadn't quite got the tight measure of. Yet it could be argued that their laid-back manner catches the ingenuity of Martinu's endless birdlike decorations perfectly : it's as if the spirit of Beethoven's Pastoral and Dvorák's American Quartet were being alluded to almost nonchalantly, and on a rehearing I find I enjoy it all the more. Nobody could say Martinu didn't know what he was up to here.

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Copyright © 30 March 2003 Roderic Dunnett, Budapest, Hungary


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