Bohuslav Martinu? Oh, who cares for you! For many, most, nearly all listeners, if he's anything at all, Martinu is a Czech émigré, a Les Six wannabe, a Prokofiev déclassé, and a Stravinsky manqué. For many, most, nearly all listeners, Martinu is a composer without profile or portfolio. Even for those few, those very few listens who do listen only rarely, Martinu remains for most a man without a country, a composer without qualities, and a musical nonentity.
Will this set of the complete string quartets of Martinu change that situation? Would that it could! Like most of the rest of his works, Martinu's quartets are subtle, strong, colorful, buoyant, lyrical, and elusively beautiful music, and listening to the seven quartets in sequence gives the listener time to grasp their elusive beauty and tremendous power. The Stamitz Quartet, with supple ensemble, intense tone, and propulsive sense of rhythm, makes a persuasive case for Martinu's music, although one might sometimes wish for a slightly lighter and less emphatic attack. Bayer's 1990 Prague recording is close and real, but a touch too wet.