Notes and Editorial Reviews
Do you program a disc to showcase your wares across a range of repertoire, as one might on the concert stage, or do you allow collectors the chance to acquire focused works for their shelves? It’s one of the oldest questions in the recording book. The question is perhaps pertinent here because the young Mariani Piano Quartet present two such niche works, by Frank Bridge and Bohuslav Martinu, alongside a piece central to the repertoire, by Schumann.
These youthful German musicians were all around 30 when they recorded the trio of works and an element of arresting extroversion is seldom far from the heart of things. Their Bridge Phantasy certainly opens with convincing ardor, though it’s less
tonally expressive than the performance by members of the Maggini Quartet and pianist Martin Roscoe on Naxos 8.557823. The Naxos disc also preserves greater warmth of recorded sound. The Mariani, however, certainly has the direction of the music under its collective fingers, and it’s only in small details, such as the little string soliloquies, that they cede to more experienced groups that manage to vest the music with a greater emotive candor and richness of texture.
Clarity of inner voicings is sometimes obscured in the Martinu, where the narrative can be just a touch harried. One feels that the group, wittingly or not, is trying emphatically to align the work with Martinu's concerto grosso soloistic imperatives. It’s this expressive and tonal inflation that can be a little wearing in the long run. There’s insufficient variation of color in the slow movement, and not enough really soft playing. It’s all impressively tensile but sometimes lacks tenderness and inwardness. Towards the end of the slow movement, however, they do generate much more intimacy, and here they are splendidly sensitive. They take a brisk tempo in the Finale, and I’m not quite sure it qualifies as an
Allegretto poco moderato
. At a slower speed, contrasts are more playfully explored, but it does enshrine a consistent point of view. For a classic look, go to the eponymous Bohuslav Martinu Piano Quartet, with such tremendous players as violinist Antonín Novák, violist Karel Spelina, and cellist Viktor Moucka, anchored by the MartinU specialist Emil Leichner. Their playing is tender, expressive, characterful, ambiguous, and much more besides, though their recording is over 30 years old now.
The young German group has a good grip on the Schumann. Their rhythmic impetus is laudable, and they take quite a youthful look at things. Thus their corporate sonority is less ochre-rich than that of, say, the Ames Piano Quartet on Dorian, whose performance of the slow movement is more overtly expressive than that of the Mariani. As a result, this is a lighter-toned, crisper affair, less plangent and more reserved in effect. Some may well welcome this clean of limb approach. Others, assuredly, will prefer the American group’s more personalized tonal qualities and its more candid approach.
Carping aside, I welcome this disc. This ensemble shows signs of good affiliations with a range of music. That said, in a competitive market place with all-Bridge and all-Martinu discs a-plenty, I don’t quite know who will buy this one.
FANFARE: Jonathan Woolf
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