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RECORDING OF THE MONTH Prague String Quartets
Luboš FIŠER (1935-1999)

String Quartet (1986)
Sylvie BODOROVÁ (b 1954)

Shofarot-String Quartet No 4 (2000)
Otmar MÁCHA (b 1922)

String Quartet No 2 (1987)
Zdeněk LUKÁŠ (b 1928)

String Quartet No 4 Op 213 (1987)
Jupiter Quartet
Recorded Domovina Studios, Prague, June and July 2001
ARCO DIVA UP 0044-2 131 [63.40]

Quattro was founded by these four composers in 1996. It is, as it were, a collective of like musical minds who share commonalities of approach both of technique and of the composer’s relationship to his audience. Of the four, disparate in terms of geographical origin and age, Luboš Fišer has since died but the remaining trio continue to produce challenging and important work. This disc, in Arco Diva’s increasingly impressive series of discs, gives us their quartets. Three were composed between 1986-87 but Bodorová’s dates from as recently as 2000, a work commissioned from the composer by Stanley Burnton and dedicated to his wife.

Fišer’s Quartet is a compact one, lasting about eleven minutes. He uses, as most of the Quattro composers do, oppositional blocks to a significant extent. In his case the material is rather austere, with a gruff viola and cello dominated opening section though it does develop in modal lyricism as the single movement develops. There is some very high lying violin writing, oscillating between reserve and reflection but Fišer shapes the contrastive material with absolute assurance, never allowing one to overbalance the other. Increasing agitation is accompanied by the curtness of his unison writing and by reminiscences of earlier material and greater depth of utterance (increased bow pressure here from the Jupiter Quartet) the music dissolves, erupts once more and then quietens in won resolution. Not an immediately or superficially likeable work, this nevertheless contains a weight of significance and drama, whether internalised or outwardly projected. Its arc from austerity to resolution is charted with immediacy, insight and sure understanding of form.

Sylvie Bodorová’s Quartet is her fourth, titled ‘Shofarot’, plural for shofar. It’s in three movements all with Jewish superscriptions and she has attempted to embed, infiltrate, what have you, the instrument into the medium of her 2000 work, one of a number of her recent works that take on Jewish themes. Embodying suitable folk music and oppositional blocks, once more, Bodorová proves more overtly expressive than Fišer in her aesthetic, one to which I find myself increasingly drawn ever since I first heard her music. She requires her instrumentalists to tap on the body of the violin, and gradually the almost ghostly presence of the shofar manifests itself in the opening movement – it seems to me that she conjures it from history itself, vesting it with renewed life, in the most conspicuously imaginative way imaginable. Now revealed the shofar, transformed into the quartet medium, opens the second movement encouraging increasingly open hearted folk lyricism and melodic drive; this is effulgent and exciting, aerating and alive. When Bodorová wants to drive hard, she can drive – see her Guitar Quintet, a riot of animation, rhythmic dash and tender heartedness. Busy and strongly rhythmic the final movement has rather more jagged Jewish motifs now, but ones that play themselves towards a triumphant resolution. I’m sure Stanley and Gwen Burnton enjoyed the commission – bravo to them and to Bodorová for this work and to Arco Diva for recording it.

Mácha’s 1987 Quartet is again in three movements. Complex, quite dramatic, it contains elements of discordance within it but ones controlled, refined and even punctured by colour, light and a sense of sure momentum. The Larghetto for example begins abruptly but moves seamlessly towards greater and greater simplicity of utterance. There’s a more animated Janáček-like central panel that goes to relative extremes of the upper and lower registers but is well controlled and moulded. The final movement is bristly, glinting, then more elegant and dramatic and finally quickly resolute.

Finally there is the last of the Quattro composers, Zdeněk Lukáš, born in 1928. In four numbered movements – he calls them merely I, II, III and IV – he roots the work in modality. Windswept fiddles over a pedal point open this intriguing quartet – before the landscape turns dusky and a folk-influenced section opens out into an effulgent melody with drone undercurrents. He does the same in the second movement, though this time he cuts short his instinct for gorgeous lyricism with self-aware alacrity. The third movement is an andante type; concentratedly lyrical, rooted in something much older perhaps than even the quartet medium, it is advanced by skittering strings, keening cello, some scampering contrastive material (again influenced by Janáček) and ending in tranquillity and stillness. So to the stern finale – propulsive, block-like – with its folk elements both exultant and yet well integrated and that ends a most likeable, winning and effective work.

But that really applies to them all to greater or lesser degrees and all have been immortalised on disc through the committed advocacy of the excellent Jupiter Quartet. Fine notes by the way and excellent recording quality lead me to a very strong recommendation.

Jonathan Woolf

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