Emperor Quartet

Bohuslav Martinu: String Quartets Nos. 3, 4, 5

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Of Bohuslav Martinu's seven string quartets, the central three quartets are possibly the most similar in expression and style and together form a body of work that most listeners may comprehend easily without explanations of the various stylistic changes that preceded or followed them. Presented in reverse order here, the String Quartet No. 5 (1938), the String Quartet No. 4 (1937), and the String Quartet No. 3 (1929) are fine examples of Martinu's reconciliation of Czech folk influences with the neo-Classicism that pervaded Europe in the years before World War II. In some ways, these pieces resemble Bartók's early quartets, particularly in the exploitation of all available string sonorities and effects, but also in the balancing of passionate, chromatic themes and harmonies with the requirements of form and independence of parts that are paramount in quartet writing. While these skillful works are not firmly established in the standard repertoire, they deserve serious attention; and these exciting performances may win a few converts to the cause. The Emperor String Quartet does justice to Martinu's middle quartets in its fervent expression, muscular bowing, incisive tone, and careful balancing of voices within the full ensemble, and shows an enthusiasm that is compelling. BIS' clear and focused reproduction is superb.

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