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Rudolf KUBÍN (1909-1973)
String Quartet No 1 (1926)
Humoresque for violin, viola, cello and clarinet
Concertino for double bass and octet
Kubín Quartet
Valter Vítek (clarinet)

Květoslav Borovička (double bass)

Akademia Quintet
Recordings licensed by Czech Radio Ostrava, no dates
ARCO DIVA UP 0051-2 131 [39.34]


Kubín was born in the industrial city of Ostrava in 1909, moving to Prague in 1924 to study at the conservatoire. A preternatural composing talent he rapidly absorbed his teacher, Alois Hába’s, quarter-tone innovations and at seventeen turned out the Quartet No 1 heard on this disc – a work of considerably advanced thinking from anyone, let alone a youth of seventeen. He also studied cello and earned his bread and butter as a rank and file player in the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra before, in his mid twenties, returning to the city of his birth to work with Erwin Schulhoff at Ostrava Radio. His eminence increased and he took an increasingly prominent position in Moravian musical life before his relatively premature death in 1973.

Beginning as an out and out disciple of Hába, Kubín gradually came to embrace influences such as Stravinsky and Honegger and one feels in his music the recognition of a personal voice through a period of experimentation. In his later years he churned out some Socialist Realist stuff – I remember once listening to his songs in praise of the miners of various countries, including Britain’s, sentiments doubtless lost on the men concerned – but the best of his music, the Sinfonietta included, has a distinctive voice of its own.

The 1926 Quartet is in three movements. It’s strongly compounded of Hába and atonalism but manages to preserve an essentially youthful confidence, strong, sonorous and powerful and to contrast it with more expressive moments, especially in the opening movement. He utilises fugato and tremolando effects not simply as motivic or colouristic devices but as strongly active material and has the theatrical sense to end the movement in violent drama. The slow movement is certainly a malign affair for one so young, its poisoned lyricism bespeaking of feelings supposedly removed from the experience of a seventeen year old. It grows more yearning and wistful but remains essentially unyielding. The finale is a banish-all-care perky Rondo.

The Humoresque dates from 1961 and is scored for violin, viola, cello and clarinet. It’s in five movements entitled On the Train, Evening Bells, Modern Love and so on. There’s plenty of musical onomatopoeia here. On the Train charts the gathering of steam (Pacific 231 it’s not however) and elides this with some nice dance music in the slower section. Evening Bells are conveyed through ingenious use and deployment of pizzicati and in the middle we have Kinematophone, an intermezzo-allegretto type of movement. Here Kubín mines some cornball, blues tinged and show tunes, adding some fox trotting for fun. His idea of Modern Love is pretty mordant and watchful, with any romance more than somewhat guarded – and his Clown, the final movement, is a roguish fellow indeed. The little Concertino for the unlikely combination and Double Bass and octet – where the eponymous Kubín Quartet are joined by Květoslav Borovička and the Akademia Quartet – certainly plunges into the sepulchral depths with the bass sawing away like a laryngitic bassoon and some neo-classical wind writing betraying some influences.

The recordings derive from Ostrava radio and have been expertly restored though no dates are given; the disc is also rather short measure but those prepared to take a chance will encounter a lesser, though still significant, product of the Czech Republic’s recent history.

Jonathan Woolf see also review by Rob Barnett


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