Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Clarinet Quintet in A, K581 (1789) [31:30]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
String Quartet No.10 in E flat major, Op 74 Harp (1809) [30:26]
Ladislav Ružícka (clarinet)
Martinu Quartet
rec. January 2012, Domovina Studio, Prague
ARCO DIVA UP 0150-2 131 [62:04]
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.
Jonathan Woolf
This is a fine coupling, and will give much pleasure.