Kocian Qt: Pavel Hula & Milos Cerny violins, Zbynek Padourek viola, Vaclav Bernasek cello Zemlinsky Qt: Frantisek Soucek & Petr Strlzek violins, Petr Holman viola, Vladimir Fortin cello
Like Martinu, the composer he promoted, for many years Viktor Kalabis wrote seven string quartets. They appear here in one Praga Digital set in their 'Musica Nova Bohemica' series after having initially been issued as separate discs.
These are stunning works in stunning performances.
The First Quartet was commissioned by the famous Smetana Quartet but never played by them perhaps because at the time its language was felt to be too elitist. In fact it sings the same opulently melodic tissue sung by the Smetana quartets. That said it is filtered through the twentieth century’s tonal alembic. Those poniard stabs at the opening speak of anger and tragedy subjected to melancholy softening by the eloquent Elegia-Largo (III) and the optimistically inclined and folk-inflected Allegro vivace (IV).
The three movement Second Quartet was commissioned and premiered by the Vlach. It is more inclined to the searingly acrid than the First Quartet. The spiky witchery of the central movement prepares the ground for the acidic yet sweetly fatigued desolation of the finale. The Third Quartet followed fourteen years after its predecessor. It is playful though the play feels macabre like that of medieval plague children. It was premiered by the Talich in 1980.
The Zemlinsky Quartet take over from the Kocian for the second disc. The Fourth Quartet was written during the final days of the Communist regime. Like the First Quartet it was premiered by the Smetana for its anniversary. And just like the First the commissioners were slow in playing the work as a result the premiere was given by the Berlin Comic Opera Quartet. It is a work of quiet confiding and whispered fantasy. Its successor, the Fifth Quartet (in memory of one of Kalabis’s influences the painter Marc Chagall) shares this sense of a world in miniature across three intricately imagined movements the last of which has a sanguine motor rhythmic drive and buzzing and wheeling gypsy feeling that in its high wheeling violin writing recalls Tippett. The Sixth Quartet is dedicated to Martinu, a composer in whose music he invested much time including active promotion and assistance in founding the Martinu Institute. This work feels bigger and louder in sound – more dramatic – in keeping with Martinu’s own muse though never sounding like a parody. That said there are some Martinu echoes as in the buzzing at the start of the finale which for me recalls the Fantaisies Symphonique. The second CD starts and ends with a single movement quartet. The Seventh Quartet contains for me the frankest Martinu reference at about 3:00 in. It is said to be a biographical work and the composer described it as '...a diary, a confession...'. It feels intimate and the note-writer for this set, Ales Brezina draws a plausible comparison with the Beethoven late quartets. The music is vividly imagined and some of it certainly communicates as a soliloquy if that is not a contradiction in terms. A fine skein of stratospheric violin writing impresses in an enigmatically majestic yet telling piece of understatement.
Rob Barnett http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2011/Jan11/Kalabis_Barnett.htm
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