Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
String Quintet No 3 in E flat, Op. 97 (1893) [38:22]
String Sextet in A, Op. 48 (1879) [33:43]*
Martinů Quartet
Pierre-Henri Xuereb (viola)
Petr Hejny (second 'cello)*
rec. no data given
CLASSIC TALENT DOM 2911 116 [67:53]
The members of the Martinů Quartet studied at the Prague Conservatory with Viktor Moucka of the Vlach Quartet. They founded the quartet in 1976, and, with the blessing of the Martinů Society, took that composer's name in 1985, since which time they have been active proponents of Martinů's chamber music.
While the present program doesn't feature that composer, these Dvorák performances once again exemplify the seemingly intuitive understanding of phrasing that's peculiar to native and Czech-trained musicians, and apparently beyond the reach of even the most astute, polished foreign practitioners. It's been said that the melodic and rhythmic patterns of Czech music, particularly Dvorák's, reflect the inflections and rhythms of the Czech language. This may well be so, but I suspect that even those with little or no knowledge of Czech will recognize a natural ease in the phrasing here that suggests a "spoken" immediacy.
The Martinů members, and their fellow-travelers, constitute an exceptionally unified, impeccably balanced ensemble, top-to-bottom. They play these scores with a taut, full-throated intensity characteristic of Slavic string players, digging into the tremolo-like figures of the quintet's first movement, soaking the opening chorale of its Larghetto in vibrant tone. Yet their alert rhythmic address - note the delicacy and point of the dotted rhythms in the quintet's finale - keep the sound from becoming heavy and earthbound, as can happen in second- and third-tier Czech orchestras; the music always moves firmly towards important points of arrival. Both performances convey a satisfying sense of rigorous, "symphonic" drama.
There's no denying, however, that the players' frequently robust manner militates against the more mysterious, ambivalent colors of these scores. In the quintet's Allegro vivo, the Trio isn't eerie, but prosaic. Their approach doesn't always allow for affection, playfulness, and good old-fashioned charm. The quintet's opening movement does unfold easily and naturally, and the players find room for warmth in the earlier sextet. But, given the fetching way they lighten the textures at 7:05 in the opening Allegro moderato, for example, you'd expect them to seek out a similar variety in the theme-and-variations finale. As it goes here, a sense of sameness ultimately prevails.
Subtler, but possibly more compromising, is the occasional absence of repose - in Dvorák, exemplified by, but not limited to, the characteristic plagal ("A--men") cadences and harmonies. It's not that the players are unaware of this aspect of the style; in the quintet, the easy assurance with which they "settle" into the first movement's turn to major at 0:56 shows that. But, in the Sextet, after a healthy Furiant, the Trio section, which sings nicely, would blossom with a measure of greater breadth. Similarly, the coda of the Quintet's first movement nods at the right sort of relaxation without actually quite achieving it.
So these aren't quite ideal realizations of these scores. Still, the Martinů's sins are basically those of omission, rather than of commission. This is a young ensemble; they have time to grow into the fullness of the Dvorák style. Meanwhile, their performances are already appealing, and quite powerful.
What should be a track listing is confusing - the movements of each work are numbered "1" through "4" - and incorporates careless misprints ("allegro gusto," "quasi adantino"). The sound quality, however, is vivid and present.

Stephen Francis Vasta
A young ensemble in performances that are appealing and quite powerful.