String Quartets
Radioservis CRO618-2

Skampa Quartet: Helena Jirikovska (violin), Daniela Souckova (violin), Radim Sedmidubsky (viola), Petr Sporcl (cello)
Total time: 67:43
Recorded by Czech Radio on January 1011, February 24, and March 3, 2012.
Date of release: October 30, 2012

 

 

Vaclav Kapral : String Quartet in C Minor (world premiere)
(1) I. Allegro moderato (8:30)
(2) II. Adagio molto. Presto. Adagio molto (11:25)

Vitezslava Kapralova : String Quartet, op. 8 (original version) (world premiere)
(3) I. Con brio (7:18)
(4) II. Lento (8:08)
(5) III. Allegro con variazioni (6:55)

Bohuslav Martinu : String Quartet No. 5, H. 268
(6) I. Allegro ma non troppo (5:50)
(7) II. Adagio (6:14)
(8) III. Allegro vivo (5:33)
(9) IV. Lento. Allegro (7:44)

Vaclav Kapral: String Quartet in C Minor (1925)
Of the three composers featured on this recording, Vaclav Kapral (1889-1947) is certainly the least known. Father of Vitezslava Kapralova and pupil of Leos Janacek, Kapral enjoyed a multifaceted musical career that encompassed teaching, concertizing as a pianist, writing music criticism, and preparing editions of piano music. Thus the time Kapral devoted to composition was limited, and he produced about fifty works over the course of his lifetime, the majority of them given over to the more intimate genres of piano solo, vocal, and chamber music. His String Quartet in C Minor from 1925 is the only such work in his output (though there are two later works for voice and string quartet), and must be counted as one of his most significant compositions. It was dedicated to the Moravian Quartet, the same ensemble who would later work closely with Janacek on his "Intimate Letters" Quartet and give the first performance of Kapralova's string quartet. Cast in two movements, the quartet is an ideal introduction to Kapral's musical style. The first movement begins with a sense of urgency, passion and drama. Here the music, at times almost orchestral in conception, possesses an unabashedly romantic sensibility reminiscent of Franck and Wagner. These connections are further reinforced by the slow introduction to the second movement, whose opening three-note motive is not only a virtual retrograde of the first movement's opening notes, but at the same time also recalls the questioning "Muss es sein?" motive from Beethoven's last string quartet borrowed by Franck in his D Minor Symphony. In Kapral's quartet this motive would appear to have symbolic significance akin to aWagnerian leitmotif; not only does it frame the scherzo-like second movement with a slow introduction and coda, but it also appears early in the first movement in a section marked Grave. The postromantic language utilized by Kapral is provided with an additional element not unexpected from an early twentieth-century composer from eastern Europe: melodies with a pronounced folk style. Kapral's friend and biographer Ludvik Kundera claimed that Kapral used actual folk tunes in his quartet, but does not specify which ones were adopted. However, it is significant that the first string quartet of Kapral's former teacher Janacek (after Tolstoy's Kreutzer Sonata) had recently premiered when Kapral began work on his own quartet, and the central scherzo of Kapral's second movement prominently features a melody that unmistakably recalls the brisk, often repeated folk-like tune in the first movement of the Janacek. In fact, Kapral's melody shares with Janacek both its rhythmic profile and Lydian melodic inflection. Similarities to Janacek notwithstanding, Kapral's string quartet adopts a more integral approach that attempts to blend the seemingly disparate elements of folk song and Wagnerian pathos in a synthesis that is more reminiscent of Bartok rather than the deliberately jarring juxtapositions heard in Janacek's Kreutzer Sonata. The quartet, especially the first movement, may have been a point of departure for Kapralova when she composed her own quartet ten years later. If Kapral's only quartet is not likely to radically alter our view of the early twentieth century string quartet, its many musical rewards make its rescue from total neglect more than welcome.
(Erik Entwistle for Czech Radio)

Vitezslava Kapralova: String Quartet, op. 8 (1935)
Kapral's daughter Vitezslava Kapralova (1915-1940) was just twenty years old when she sketched her only string quartet in the summer of 1935 at the family retreat in the village of Tri Studne, shortly after graduating from the Brno Conservatory. She completed the composition by March of the following year in Prague, where she moved to continue her studies at the Prague Conservatory. The work was premiered by the Moravian Quartet at the opening concert of their fifth season in Brno on October 5, 1936. Up until 2009, when the first edition of the work was published by the Czech Radio, performers had to rely on a handful of conflicting sources: the original autograph and two sets of handwritten parts prepared by unknown copyists. The many discrepancies among these sources, which also included several cuts, made it very difficult to determine the composer's final intentions with any precision, and the printed edition left a number of editorial questions unanswered. Fortunately, they have been addressed by this recording by Skampa Quartet, which reflects the most recent Kapralova scholarship and is as close to an authentic interpretation of the work as possible. The three-movement string quartet is written in a traditional fast-slow-fast scheme, using the formal structures of sonata form (Con brio), rounded binary (Lento), and theme with variations (Allegro con variazioni). The key centers of each movement form a large-scale V-iii-I progression in B-flat major, though frequent modulations and tonal ambiguities leave the harmonic structure somewhat obscured. To a large extent, Kapralova's compositional style in the quartet combines Czech-Moravian folk rhythms and melodies along with more modern harmonic techniques, such as the whole-tone harmonies of the Impressionists, and even the extended chords (dominant ninth, etc.) of early jazz. To this list of influences one can add the typical idiosyncratic modulations, tonal ambiguity, and polyphonic voicing, all of which result in a musical language that is distinctly Kapralova's.
The quartet opens with an arresting, dense, and tonally vague six-measure introduction marked Con brio. The first theme which follows is a grotesque folk dance in F major. Later, a melancholy lyrical theme appears, accompanied by trills in the viola, with a melody and texture so strongly resembling the opening movement of Ravel's string quartet that it must have served as a model. The staccato third theme is also loosely based on this second theme. These themes are, of course, developed as the movement progresses, but of particular interest is a developmental section that precedes the lyrical theme. Here, fragmented passages from all three themes appear and this lends a certain familiarity to the second and third themes when they are finally stated in full. The rich harmonic language of the first movement is further developed in the central Lento movement which begins with a pensive cello solo in D minor. The mood of the movement is by turns mournful, serene, and eerie, but also yearning and even playful at times, never without the composer's characteristic lushness. The elegant, playful theme of the Allegro con variazioni movement begins in B-flat major and is subjected to five variations. In the Poco meno mosso variation the theme is "hidden" in the viola's embellished sixteenth-notes and it emerges more clearly in the second variation (Cantabile), although now in the distant key of D-flat major. This is followed by a somber and lyrical Molto meno mosso variation with the theme again obscured. The fourth variation (Vivo) pulsates with a strong rhythmic drive, while changing meters and motivic fragmentation now obscure the theme considerably. The final variation also serves as a coda, and here the theme returns to its more recognizable form, this time in F major. The movement intensifies quickly and, after a series of rapid meter changes, ends strongly in B-flat major.
(Marta Blalock for Czech radio)

Bohuslav Martinu: String Quartet No. 5, H. 268 (1938)
The String Quartet No. 5, H. 268, was completed in Paris during the months of April and May, 1938, a time of both great affirmation and great anxiety for Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959). France, his Czech homeland, and other regions of Europe were facing the advances of Hitler's Nazi forces. At the same time, Martinu's personal life was enhanced by a renewed vitality he experienced as a result of his deepening relationship with his young student, Vitezslava Kapralova. She reminded him of home and of his youth, serving as the inspiration for the brief instances of lyricism that grace the work. The quartet is among the most private of his compositional efforts, the correlations so great he refrained from publishing the work until the last year of his life. It is likely that, as Martinu scholar Ales Brezina has observed, the delay was motivated by the composer's reluctance to release a work that contrasted so dramatically with his established style of moderation and objectivity. In a letter from 1959, Martinu admitted, in fact, that his opinion was different from others and he had refrained from two decades must also indicate, however, his realization of its worth. Scholars have deemed it his most significant contribution to the genre, comparing it to Janacek's String Quartet No. 2 "Listy duverne" (Intimate Letters) from 1928 and Bartok's Third Quartet, completed in 1927. The original manuscript provides testament to Kapralova's involvement. Marginalia contain illustrations and personal thoughts inspired by their intimate relationship. Yet the music itself is severe and aggressive, laden with dissonance amid rare instances of lyricism. Martinu biographer Brian Large regards it as a disquieting score but also the composer's most intellectual. Angry, restless, conflicted, somber, dejected, unyielding, indignant-these are some of the states of mind encountered on the journey through the quartet. The emotional intensity with which the content is revealed indicates that the "stormy inspiration" Martinu acknowledges may indeed go beyond his relationship with Kapralova to encompass his anxiety at the encroaching wartime threat. In his Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and timpani, H. 271, completed later in 1938, Martinu utilizes a similarly aggressive compositional language. Of the latter work the reason is clear, "When I look at my Double Concerto, I have the impression that the atmosphere of tragic events which we remember so well is engraved on the pages of the score, and that in it I even foretold something of the future events that overtook my country." The Concerto's near relative, the String Quartet No. 5, H. 268, the acknowledged masterpiece among his chamber works, also represents the inner Martinu but on a more intimate level, shaped by a raw romantic passion that is perhaps coupled with a severe dread for the fate of Europe.
(for Czech Radio Judith Mabary)

The Skampa Quartet is among the very finest of an outstanding group of current Czech string quartets. Through its mentors, the legendary Smetana Quartet, the ensemble traces its roots to the earliest quartets, such as the Bohemian Quartet, in a land described in the 18th century as the Conservatoire of Europe and the very cradle of European chamber music. The ensemble has enhanced this heritage with its own well-informed research of the folk songs, rhythms, and dances from which Czech national music grew-to the extent that their recordings of the quartets by Smetana and Janacek are considered the benchmarks against which other performances have been measured. Prizes at international competitions, awards from the Royal Philharmonic Society, and an appointment as the first-ever resident artists at Wigmore Hall attested to the competence of the ensemble's early years and provided recognition which led to invitations to perform at major festivals worldwide, including Prague, Edinburgh, Schwetzingen, Schleswig-Holstein and Melbourne. From the start, the ensemble established close relationship with the BBC Radio 3, resulting in regular broadcasts from Wigmore Hall, St. John's Smith Square, LSO St. Luke's and the Chamber Music Proms. Teaching has also been an important part of the ensemble's work and one that they find particularly rewarding. The members of the Skampa Quartet have taught in many places around the world but most importantly at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where in 2001 they were appointed Visiting Professors of Chamber Music.
(Czech Radio 2012)