Radu PALADI (1927-2013)
String Quartet No.1 in C minor (1956) [23:42]
Zdeněk FIBICH (1850-1900)
String Quartet No.2 in G major Op.8 H.252 (1878) [27:35]
Martfeld Quartett
rec. 28-29 June 2015, Immanuelskirche Wuppertal, Germany

Radu Paladi, a name new to me, had several strings to his bow: composer, pianist, conductor and teacher. He did his musical training in his native Bucharest, and from 1969 to 1972 conducted the Botosani Philharmonic. His compositional oeuvre had a bias towards piano and choral genres. This string quartet, the first of two, is the only music of his that I’ve heard. It’s melodically orientated and underpinned by Romanian folk elements and rhythms. Throughout his composing life Paladi tended to avoid avant-garde trends, preferring to venture down a neo-classical route.

The sonata-form opening movement has a sense of urgency and forward momentum. Framed in a neo-classical style, Romanian folk elements abound. The Andante provides some contrast between the more energetic outer movements. It has a sedate, melancholic complexion which the Martfeld Quartett convey with ardent tenderness. The finale is vigorous, spirited and animated. I totally agree with a previous review that, when it comes to influences, Bartók and Enescu must be high on the agenda. There’s an alternative recording of this Paladi work played by the Lupot String Quartet, paired with a Saint-Saëns Quartet, on the obscure label Ars Sonandi. As far as I can gather it’s only available as a download, at least in the UK. I haven’t heard it to compare.

Romantic nationalism wasn’t a priority for Fibich as it was for his teacher Bedřich Smetana and his near contemporary Antonín Dvořák. As a result his star has never shone as brightly. His mother was of German origin, and the influence of that country’s classical tradition stamped its mark to a greater extent on his music. In this, his second quartet, hints of Mendelssohn and Schumann are discernible. The main bulk of his oeuvre has a bias towards opera and vocal genres. His second wife was a very competent singer, and he assigned several of his operatic roles to her. His third wife wrote the libretto for Šárka. He also composed three delightful symphonies, symphonic poems and some piano music.

Though it would be fair to say that Fibich’s Op. 8 has never garnered much enthusiasm from quartet ensembles — it has had a couple of outings on CD from the Kocian and Panocha Quartets — my first encounter with it has been positive. It was the only one of his string quartet ventures to be published in his lifetime, and it conforms to a fairly traditional four-movement ground-plan. The first movement begins in light-hearted vein with a melody that could have been plucked from Mendelssohn. Tuneful and sunny, it’s guaranteed to lift the spirits with its genial affability. The Adagio is thoughtful in mood, and perhaps the only weakness is a rather four-square feel. For me, it’s certainly the least successful of the four movements. The Scherzo has a Dvořákian lilt to it, and a Bohemian folk flavour informs the finale.

Coviello’s sound quality is first-class and an ideal balance has been struck between the four instrumentalists. The Martfeld Quartett, who play with consummate polish and panache, have these works at their fingertips and their virile accounts are deeply committed. These convincing performances will surely win these lesser-known works new friends.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Dave Billinge

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