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Vaclav Kapral (1889-1947) - String Quartet in C Minor
1. I. Allegro moderato 8:30
2. II. Adagio molto. Presto. Adagio molto 11:25
Vitezslava Kapralova (1915-1940) - String Quartet Op.8
3. I. Con brio 7:18
4. II. Lento 8:03
5. III. Allegro con variazioni 6:55
Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) - 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
Helena Jirikovska violin, Daniela Souckova violin, Radim Sedmidubsky viola, Petr Sporcl cello
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