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Christopher Latham
Limelight, December 2007

Martinu is finally being reassessed and taking his place as the great Czech composer to follow Janacek. He is also the only Czech Jewish composer of his generation to survive the holocaust.  …the two piano quintets, one from his Paris years and the second from his American wartime period, are simply wonderful and yet almost completely unknown. The recording and performances are excellent and Naxos must be congratulated for enabling much of his music to be finally heard.

David Hurwitz, September 2007

Martinu's Second Piano Quintet dates from 1944, the same time as the Third and Fourth Symphonies, and if you love those works you'll be thrilled by this quintet, which sounds just like them albeit scored for smaller forces. Right from the dreamy opening Martinu's personal blend of impressionistic harmony and sweetly lyrical, syncopated melody makes the work instantly recognizable, and unforgettable. The Adagio second movement must number among his finest in any medium, while the finale, with its alternations of quick and slow tempos and unsettled emotional climate, anticipates that of the Fifth Symphony. In short, this is a great work, certainly one of the best piano quintets of the 20th century (not that there are all that many worth noting).

The Piano Quintet No. 1 dates from 1933, when Martinu was living in Paris and turning out a delightful stream of neo-classical and neo-baroque works. Although recognizably music by the composer of the Second Quintet, the treatment of material is quite different. The strings tend to operate as a unit, opposed by the full harmony of the piano, while the toccata-like rhythms and more acerbic, less lyrical thematic material are all characteristic traits of Martinu's early maturity. If anything these observations are even more true of the quirky and highly entertaining two-movement Sonata for Two Violins and Piano of a year earlier.

The Martinu Quartet, already acclaimed for its performances on Naxos of its eponymous composer's works for that medium, finds a worthy partner in pianist Karol Kosárek. The performances are uniformly excellent, full of energy but never timbrally crude (as with The Lindsay Quartet on ASV). There is very little competition in this music: the ASV release aside, the most noteworthy previous release comes from an old Denon/Supraphon recording of the Second Quintet featuring the Smetana Quartet. The coupling (Three Madrigals) is much less generous than what Naxos offers here, making this extremely well-recorded release essential for chamber music collectors and Martinu fans alike.

Patrick Rucker
Fanfare, September 2007

Košárek and the Martinů portray the alternately wistful and anguished Andante with elegance and sympathy. Tricky rhythmical figurations in the harmonically luminous allegretto Scherzo are superbly negotiated. The quartet manages the pungent dissonances that usher in the fourth and final movement with sure intonation and great effect.

Fluttering trills and tremolandos in the strings and piano lend the strange and beautiful Adagio an ethereal air. Throughout, Martinů accomplishes the Franckian ideal of perfectly integrated ensemble. My sense is that this Quintet plumbs greater depths than the Parisian work, though it is certainly equally appealing.

The neo-Baroque Sonata for Two Violins and Piano comes as a light-hearted affair in the wake of the substantial quintets. The second of its two Allegro movements is prefaced with an odd and fascinating Andante, beautifully played by Havlák and Petr Matěják. The excellent pianist Karel Košárek here demonstrates that his expertise as an accompanist equals his strength as the protagonist in the more elaborate quintets.

The technical values are high, and the ambient acoustic well suited to both the material and the players. Recommended. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2007

Though it is the seven string quartets by which Bohuslav Martinu's chamber output is best known, he wrote for just about every permutation that employed strings, the piano quintets being among his greatest joys. Born in 1890, the son the village watchman and church tower keeper in East Bohemia, living in the tower and cut off from the outside world, Martinu taught himself the violin. But the young man only wanted to compose, though his rebellious nature never allowed him to remain in formal training for long. To earn a living he joined the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra as a violinist, and stayed with them long enough to realise all the music he had written was of little value. A small grant took him to Paris to study with Roussel, and if he did not learn much, he did at least meet those who could open doors to having his music performed. It was this backdrop which gave rise to the First Piano Quintet, a work redolent with the naughty Paris of the 1920's seen through Czech eyes. Sample the highly energised third movement with its taxing piano part for instant enjoyment. On the run from the Nazis, he had arrived in New York by the time the Second was completed in 1944, though his style had changed little, the punchy rhythms propelling his absorbing melodic material. Seldom played the two-movement Sonata comes from the time of the first quintet, and produces some unusual sonorities. The Martinu Quartet is one of the very few string ensembles where you can completely forget questions of intonation. Whatever they play they seem to self-balance so that we never miss a note even in the most densely scored music. In Karel Kosarek they have found a pianist equally imbued with the feel for Martinu's idiom. In sum these are performances without equal on disc. If only all piano quintet recordings were as perfectly balanced as this.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, April 2007

Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) had such an individual style that almost everything he wrote is instantly recognizable. That's certainly true of the three outstanding pieces of chamber music on this release. The first piano quintet (1933) was composed while he was living in Paris. Unlike the jazz and dance inspired works he wrote there in the 1920s, it's neoclassical and shows the influence of Czech folk music. The first movement is typically hyper Martinu with all those wonderfully abrupt key changes and thematic fragmentations that make his music so appealing. The andante that comes next could almost be based on some old Hussite monody, and perfectly sets the stage for the whimsical allegretto that follows. This is full of those passages which are a Martinu trademark and might best be described as sounding like swarms of excited bees. The finale begins with a brief motif resembling the Hussite-like tune heard previously. In the imaginative development section that follows, it's musically eviscerated, but then returns even more hale and hearty than before. This brings the work to an exultant conclusion that's somewhat reminiscent of the more grandiloquent passages in Bedrich Smetana's Ma Vlast. The second piano quartet dating from 1944 was written in the United States where the composer had fled to escape the Nazi invasion of France. Like much of his music dating from the 1940s, there's a sense of anxiety and queasiness present that probably reflect the considerable psychological effect that World War II had had on him. The first movement materializes out of a gently swirling melodic mist and ends forcefully on an optimistic note. The following adagio is magical Martinu and one of the composer's most introspective creations. Repeated passages seem to anticipate what would soon come from Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. A study in contrasts, the scherzo consists of squirrely outer sections that surround a lovely pensive trio. Alternating dark and light passages make up the finale. The former are for strings only and somewhat reminiscent of the more introverted moments in Ludwig van Beethoven's late quartets. The latter gleam with a phosphorescent glow and bring the work to an exciting conclusion. The disc is filled out with a sonata for two violins and piano (1932). In only two movements, the first could almost be a modern day adaptation of some lively dance from a keyboard suite by Johann Sebastian Bach. The concluding one starts off like a musical characterization of some feline on the prowl, but concludes with more of those Martinu bees buzzing up a real honey of a coda. Pianist Karel Kosarek and the members of the Martinu Quartet certainly live up to their heritage by delivering totally authoritative performances. All this plus excellent recorded sound at a bargain price make for a highly desirable release.

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