There’s no pressing logic for the coupling other than the importance
and beauty of the music. The Martinu Quartet undertakes the
Beethoven Op.74 but shares the honours with the excellent Czech
clarinettist Ladislav Ružícka in Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet.
Therein hangs a small tale.
Ružícka studied in Pilsen and Prague and finally in Würzburg.
He taught for a number of years and in 1984 was appointed to
a directing position in Zirndorf, conducting the Symphonic Wind
Orchestra there. I’m not quite sure how to take Arco Diva’s
note at this point but it says that from 1991 he devoted himself
to ‘international trade’ and after 18 successful years has now
returned to concert activities. What kind of trade, one wonders?
In any case, it’s welcome back to Ružícka. He has a warm, full
and rounded tone, inclining to the German school rather than
the French. The quartet makes for ideal colleagues, sharing
his inherently and explicitly warm tonal and expressive instincts.
Answering string phraseology, from top to bottom, is richly
nuanced, fully projected, and the two violinists have coordinated
vibratos excellently. The violist is in the best traditions
of Czech viola playing; the cellist provides a strong frame.
The players ensure that contrapuntal lines are explored with
rapt intelligence, remaining clear but alive. Where in recent
performances I’ve been strangely disappointed by readings of
the seraphic slow movement, here I don’t feel at all short-changed.
The music is communicative and well engineered; not too close,
but with a fine immediacy that is never too voluble. In every
way, then, this is a most successful performance.
The Martinu Quartet meets the challenges of the Op.74 Quartet
head on. It’s not a frenetic performance, nor is it outsize
in terms of projection. It’s clean-limbed, textually clear and
rhythmically buoyant. The proportions of the first two movements
remind me a touch of the Budapest Quartet’s Library of Congress
recital in the 1940s, though I wouldn’t want to suggest any
stylistic affinity. The Czech quartet keeps things flowing and
also keeps the temperature on the cool side, locating the work’s
expressive heart with aplomb. But they vest the music with sufficient
introspection, where their tone is almost viol-like, to deepen
and darken the slow movement. The scherzo is taken attaca,
as marked, and the finale unfolds with singing control, the
variations moving clearly and cleanly onwards.
This is a fine coupling, and will give much pleasure.