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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
String Quartet No. 5 (1938) [26:32]
(Allegro ma non troppo [5:50]; Adagio [6:11]; Allegro vivo [5:37]; Lento. Allegro [8:42])
Vítězslava KAPRÁLOVÁ (1915-1940)

String Quartet Op. 8 (1934) [21:10]
(Con brio [7:11]; Lento [8:50]; Allegro con variazioni [5:01])
Josef SUK (1874-1935)

Meditation on the old Czech chorale St. Wenceslas (1914) [5:49]
Kaprálová Quartet (Rita Čerpučenko, Simona Hurníková, Světlana Jahodová, Margit Klepáčová)
rec. November 2005, Domovina Studio, Prague. DDD
ARCO DIVA UP 0085 - 2 131 [53:45]
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Wartime provides something of a link for this programme the only weaknesses of which are its brevity and an uninvolving Suk Meditation.

Martinů’s quartet is the fifth of seven. Hoarse and rasping with protest at one moment it then puts forth deep-breathed sighs of nostalgia. It was, after all, written in Paris at a time when return to the Czech homeland of the 48 year old composer had become impossible. The desperation this induced was accentuated by that fact his 1938 holiday was the last occasion on which he set foot in his home country. Not only that, his refuge in the artistic ferment of Paris was becoming insecure and two years later he left for the USA. Much the same desperation can be heard in an iconic work of the same year, the Concerto for double string orchestra, piano and timpani. This is Martinů casting off the neo-classically arid game-play of so much of his Paris legacy. He reaches towards the symphonic commentary of tragedy, scorn, joy and heroism. The Kaprálová Quartet imbue their reading with the sort of drive and corrosive violence normally associated with Shostakovich. The successor to this quartet was to be written in a New World and in a new phase in the composer’s life divided from the Paris years by a world war.

Speed is not everything but they are faster at 26:32 than the Panocha [27:09] on Supraphon but not quite as fast as the Stamitz [26:04] on Brilliant Classics - a 5 CD box with all seven Martinů quartets and the pairs of quartets by Janáček and Smetana.

This is followed by Kaprálová’s deeply affecting and astonishingly moving quartet. Its emotional anchor is the long central lento which speaks directly and in hushed accents. It radiates enchantment in a Tippett-like web of cantilena. The introspection is not cast off completely in the finale. It is as if the beauty of the lento compels the pilgrim to turn from activity back to the land of lost content and become lost in the vision. There is a hint of Rózsa’s Middle-European accent about this. I wonder if the music critic Christopher Palmer ever heard this work. It’s my guess he would have been completely captivated and would have become one of Kaprálová’s most persuasive and enthusiastic advocates. I would also add that the Kaprálová’s performance out-points the Janáček Quartet on a valuable all-Kaprálová CD (Studio Matouš MK 0049-2 011). The work registered favourably but in a rather generalised way with the Janáček. In the present case it leaves the listener in no doubt that this is a special piece of music.
You can and should read more about Kaprálová at:-

The quartet’s way with the Suk while wonderfully textured and presented with clarity is far too dry-eyed. Given the Kaprálová’s luminously touching ways with the Martinů and Kaprálová works their interpretative decision here must be deliberate but seems to me to miss the message. This is music that needs to be dwelt on and parallels with future works, such as Barber’s Adagio to which it is a precursor, relished.

The sound is vital, gripping and relentlessly present.

And those links? Kaprálová was a pupil of Martinů for three years. Their relationship became one of deep affection; they may well have been lovers. Martinů uses the melody from Kaprálová’s song Farewell Handkerchief in the adagio of the Fifth Quartet. Both composers wrote A Love Carol at about the same time. By 1940 their relationship was snuffed out: Kaprálová was dead of TB and Martinů was on his way to America.

Rob Barnett

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