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There's a delicious Scherzo, busked through perhaps just a mite too friskily, with some nice cheeps from first violin; and the Martinu's viola player has an attractive prominent solo in the shyly modal Adagio. Arguably the last movement fares best of all : it opens like a cheerful celebration in some Tatra village, with a kind of Slav bitonalism not unlike Janácek, played with appealing clarity. Martinu makes use of this vein of music in his operas, and here it is used to especially striking and compact effect.
Janácek comes often to mind, too, in the darker Fifth Quartet, whose drama (there may be personal allusions regarding its dedicatee -- one of Martinu's girl pupils, Vitezslava Kapralova) is established early on in numerous sudden surges in the middle strings. The chordal bitonality is constantly there -- one thinks of Bartók and Mikrokosmos -- and the dramatic interest (something Martinu is actually strong on) is maintained. Never more so than in the Fifth's mysterious Adagio, where a wry and dry-sounding violin solo is enveloped in curious watery drippings and wellings in the other instruments. Fascinating stuff, tinged with unmistakable sadness, and notably well managed here. This is undoubtedly the emotional heart of the disc.
Copyright © 30 March 2003
Roderic Dunnett, Budapest, Hungary