Martinu is a composer
who seems to have a growing worldwide fan club, if the proliferation
of recordings of his music is any indication. I approached this music
feeling some sort of obligation to like it. Alas, after careful consideration,
I must conclude that Martinu was a composer that was as uneven
as he was prolific. He was also given, like his American counterpart
Alan Hovhaness, to repeated uses of the same compositional devices;
devices which wear thin very quickly.
That is not to say that there is not at least some
interesting music here. In particular, the slow movements are fresh
in their harmonic language, and original in their melodic construct.
In particular, the Andante of the seventh quartet is simply gorgeous,
and it is played here with a tenderness and care that borders on the
sublime. Alas, the two or three slow gems cannot make up for the incessant
underpinning of chugging sixteenth-note chords, scored in gratingly
tight and dissonant harmonies that demolish the majority of the faster
movements. One can handle this device for a time. It was reasonably
effective in the fourth quartet’s first movement. But when it reappeared
in the second and fourth movements, and then reared its head again in
the fifth quartet, I, for one, had had quite enough.
Nevertheless, there is still some music to enjoy here,
and despite the freight train motif, the melodies that peer above it
have some originality and grace, and are at least worth the investment
of a single listen.
The performances here
are basically above reproach. The Martinu quartet plays vigorously,
and with a fine sense of ensemble. They are simply ravishing in tone
and expression in the slower movements mentioned above. It would
be a joy indeed to hear them in better repertoire.
Keith Anderson, as usual,
provides excellent program notes and the sound quality is of the first
order. For fans of Martinu’s music, this disc is worth the
investment. Recommended with some hesitation.