Two Czech sextets. Of the two here it’s actually the Schulhoff
that has begun to eclipse Martinů’s in popularity. Partly
of course this may reflect Schulhoff’s greater prominence on disc
but it does also indicate that the earlier work – Schulhoff wrote
it in 1924 – has a profusion of incident and eclectic writing.
work is a charming and harmonically rich affair, offering coloured
variety in the first movement. There are witty dance themes in
the second as well as some drunken lurches. The finale is vital,
vibrant with plenty of warmth and clarity. At a quarter of an
hour or so in length it can hardly be said to outstay its welcome
– a lively, pleasurable and largely untroubled affair. The Academy
of St Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Ensemble has recorded it on
all-Czech disc [Chandos CHAN8771]; better still is an all-Martinů
disc on Praga PRD350040. Don’t be tempted by Ensemble Villa Musica’s
all-Martinů disc on MDG 3041439, which contains the Sextet
– it’s unidiomatically played.
Sextet is a fascinatingly eclectic affair. Its first movement
has Schoenbergian moments whilst the second is a pretty fervid
Andante. There’s a folkloric scherzo, technically demanding, and
flecks of late Impressionism in the finale. If this makes it sound
like an indigestible porridge then the wonder is that it isn’t.
I enjoyed The Raphael Ensemble’s performance but it strikes a
very different kind of stance to that of the augmented Kocian
Quartet on Supraphon SU1121672131 – they’ve also recorded it for
Praga. The Helios has the warmer sound, though the more brittle
Supraphon acoustic doesn’t act against the music. The Kocian screws
up tension in the first movement more successfully and its middle
section winds down like a run down motor very much more graphically.
The English ensemble are slower than the Czechs – which lends
their slow movement a nice, insinuating feel, though the Kocians
sounds more modern in the scherzo. The Raphaels bring overt anguish
to the opening statements of the finale whilst the Kocian tends
to stress rather more the laconic impressionism rather than the
expressionist angst that The Raphael Ensemble locates.
Martinů’s Three Madrigals sees Hyperion, in its Helios reissue guise,
in competition, inter alia, with itself. The Dartington Ensemble
recorded them - but their programme was discrete. Anthony
Marwood and Sally Beamish make a good showing here. The acoustic
is more generous than that for the classic Jiři
Novák and Milan Škampa
Supraphon though the tones, individually and collectively,
of the English duo are wirier than the Czechs. No one can
rival that august Czech pairing for sheer finesse, heft and
enjoyable disc doesn’t quite displace the front-runners but offers
warmly aerated performances, persuasively realised.