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Miloslav IŠTVAN (1928-1990)
Complete Works for String Quartet
String Quartet "1951" (1951) [19:23]
String Quartet (1963) [15:28]
Gloomy Landscape for the String Quartet - in the Memory of Victims of 1939-45 (1975) [5:20]
2nd String Quartet (1986) [12:32]
Miloslav Ištvan Quartett
rec. 2010, Kapitulní síň Vojenské nemocnice, Brno, Czech Republic
PAVLÍK RECORDS PA0077-2-131 [52:25]

The Czech composer Miloslav Ištvan studied composition at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno with Jaroslav Kvapil. Early on, he developed a liking for Moravian folk music and this opened up a wider interest in Balkan, Asian and African folklores. He also embraced Bartók's modal style of composition. Later, he adopted the twelve-tone technique. He also attempted a synthesis of classical and pop music genres.

As its title suggests, the earliest String Quartet was composed in 1951 when Ištvan was in his fourth year at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts. Being a student’s work, the composer had no eagerness to promote it or seek a performance. He didn't even include it in his 1979 work’s listing. It's cast in four movements, is tonally based and combines dance rhythms and optimism. I prefer the two inner ones. The Adagio is melodically effusive, with some exquisite luminous sonorities. The brief third movement contains catchy foot-tapping rhythms, which make you sit up and take notice.

Over twenty years separates the two mature string quartets. Both are structured in five movements. The first, not numbered, was composed between 1962-63. It paints the harsh, unremitting landscape of brutality, indifference and alienation of the époque of technical civilisation, as Ištvan himself puts it. This is most vividly depicted in the 4th movement Largo by percussive pizzicatos. The 2nd String Quartet of 1986 has no titles for its movements. It's minimalist in form, atonal and dissonant. Although restless undercurrents are never far from the surface, the work, as a whole, isn’t quite as unrelenting as its predecessor.

Gloomy Landscape for the String Quartet - in the Memory of Victims of 1939-45 dates from 1975. Pain, angst, desolation and isolation are all packed into this 5˝ single-movement work. Discordant and angular best describes the scoring.

With four works, spanning a duration of thirty-five years, we're afforded the opportunity to survey Ištvan's stylistic development as a composer. The compositionally more challenging later works offer me the most satisfaction. The Miloslav Ištvan Quartett play with great musicality and intelligence, and one senses a close rapport between them. The only drawback with this recording is the over-resonant acoustic of the Kapitulní síň Vojenské nemocnice, Brno, resulting in a lack of warmth and intimacy, compounded by the recessed positioning of the ensemble. This results in some sacrifice of detail.

Stephen Greenbank

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