Bohuslav MARTINU (1890 - 1959)
Piano Quartet (1942) [23:57]
Quartet for oboe, piano, violin and cello (1947) [11:55]
Duo No.2 for violin and cello (1958) [11:20]
Piano Trio No.3 in C (1951) [19:48]
George Caird (oboe), Schubert Ensemble (Simon Blendis (violin), Douglas Paterson (viola), Jane Salmon (cello), William Howard (piano))
rec. 19-21 January 2009, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10551 [67:10]

Listeners of my age will have grown up on the great 1950s and 1960s Supraphon recordings of Martinů. Who could forget Karel Sejna’s searing account of the Concerto for double string orchestra, piano and timpani (Supraphon 50109), František Hanták in the Oboe Concerto (Supraphon 50486), or the Janáček and Vlach Quartets in the 5th and 7th Quartets (Supraphon 50424)? There was so much, and in the most idiomatic performances one could wish for. The trouble was that when a western group recorded a Martinů work the performance never seemed to have quite the edge of those Czech recordings. Things have changed slightly in the past twenty or thirty years as Martinů has become more accepted, if not in the concert hall, then certainly on disk.

These performances are most welcome bringing together a selection of works from Martinů’s later years. The Piano Quartet is so typically Martinů! Oddly it’s the only major chamber work of his which Supraphon didn’t record in those earlier days, although, perhaps even more oddly, the Richards Quartet recorded it on Oiseau Lyre. It’s full of the usual, seemingly inconsequential chatter of his best neo-classical pieces, with a moment of hilarious indecision at the start, and containing some dark lyricism. The slow movement is particularly impressive in its ability to move one emotionally, whilst, musically, doing very little. The finale has an insouciance which is very typical of some of Martinů’s works, but goes unmentioned. I am convinced that it is a kind of California dreamin’ style, years before the hippies discovered it. This is a lovely, laid-back, performance of one of Martinů’s sunniest chamber works.

The Oboe Quartet is written for the unusual ensemble of oboe, piano, violin and cello, instead of the usual oboe and string trio. It’s rather serious and even though written in his neo-classical voice doesn’t chatter away. What it does do, however, is have a serious discussion about the music presented. The finale brings things to a delightfully carefree conclusion. The second of Martinů’s 2 Duos for violin and cello, doesn’t have the jazzy Paris of the 1920s acting as its mentor (as did the 1st Duo (1927)). It’s slightly too long for its material, and too serious for its instrumentation.

The 3rd Piano Trio is one of Martinů’s masterpieces. Here the composer packs a lot into a very short playing time. It’s full of good tunes, has a certain amount of incident and is beautifully laid out for the instruments. It has a real purpose, that of working out musical problems in an intelligent and logical way. This is a very serious work and makes a most satisfying conclusion to a disk which contains an amount of lighter fare.

These are very fine performances of music which tickles the ear most pleasantly yet discovers some depths as well. They are not, indeed they could not, be as idiomatic as the older Czech recordings. The newer Czech recordings also seem more cosmopolitan and less integrated as performances. If you’ve got the Foerster Trio in the 3rd Trio (Supraphon 50698), or Josef Suk and André Navarra in the 2nd Duo (Supraphon 50877) don’t get rid of them for these performances in no way supercede them. However, this disk is worth having because of the coupling, and the Quartet and Trio on one disk make this a very tempting buy.

Bob Briggs