recordings, conveniently grouped for
the first time, form the basis for any
serious Martinů shelf. Together
with the Munch Sixth they give an indispensable
artistic-historical perspective. It
is down to these classic recordings,
made within a decade or so of the premieres,
that Martinů's symphonies travelled
into homes across the world. For many
years until the mid-1970s arrival of
stereo Neumann set they were the symphonies’
only representation in the catalogue.
Intriguingly it was Ančerl, then
politically in favour, rather than Kubelik
who made these cornerstone recordings.
One wonders how the latter would have
made these works sound.
While wondering perhaps someone could
also speculate on why Ančerl never
recorded the others (allowing for the
radio broadcast based Multisonic set
of numbers 1,3 and 5). A later Supraphon
entry was from an Ančerl pupil,
Martin Turnovsky. Turnovsky's
still matchless stereo Fourth Symphony
is just as important if not more so
because the that work stands at the
peak of Martinů's exuberant, dynamic,
plangent symphonism. You can hear the
Turnovsky on an unmissable Warner Apex
budget price issue (0927 49822
The Fifth Symphony
was dedicated to the Czech Philharmonic.
Despite being written in the USA it
was premiered by the dedicatees who
were conducted by Rafael Kubelik on
28 May 1947 as part of the Prague Spring
is unhurried but not languid. He has
a healthy instinct for the essential
tension, rhythmic insistence and joy
of Martinů's music. His masterly
sense of pacing is evident especially
in the finale of the Fifth. It should
not go without saying that Ančerl's
orchestra, which once
included the young Martinů in the
violin section under Talich, is idiosyncratic
in timbre, resinous and fulsome in bloom.
On the subject of the Fifth note writer,
Jaroslav Holeček points up the
similarities with the Fourth. I am not
at all sure that they are that
The Fifth's predecessor is a work of
much greater brilliance sometimes suggesting
a concerto for orchestra although finally
and triumphantly symphonic in its weight
and trajectory. I wonder what an Ančerl
Fourth would sound like? We have Kubelik's
Fourth (see his volume of the EMI/IMG
‘Great Conductors of the Century’ series)
but no Ančerl.
After too short a break
the Sixth Symphony begins with
its buzzing, warm, insect-swarming,
bubbling understated yet taut expectation
... that sense
of feathered wings beating at the window.
Ančerl does not over-dramatise.
In fact he projects everything with
an affectionate tenderness: listen to
the last few minutes of the first movement.
He is also good at bringing out the
irresistible fast-fluent melancholia
in the middle movement from 01.00 onwards.
The strings of the orchestra render
the scalpel-poignant writing in the
finale with sensitivity while at the
same time playing it full-on. The string
writing might occasionally suggest RVW's
Tallis but also looks to Josef
Suk's Meditation and Asrael.
The provisional first
version of Symphony No. 6 was completed
in 1951 with its definitive score appearing
two years later. Serge Koussevitsky
was the dedicatee but it was Charles
Munch, his successor at Boston,
who conducted the Boston Symphony in
the work's premiere in Boston on 7 January
1955 and then recorded it for RCA. The
Czech premiere took place in Prague
on 8 February 1956 conducted by Ančerl.
The almost Brahmsian
peace of the end of the Sixth makes
way for the Lidice Memorial written
between the First and Second symphonies.
News of the atrocity had finally reached
the USA. There is anger here as well
as anxiety although tremblingly meditative
angst is predominant. The anger surfaces
in music recalling RVW's Fourth Symphony.
At the peak (7:20) in an enigmatic Germanic
gesture the ‘fate’ motif from Beethoven's
Fifth rings out momentarily from the
brass desks. As with the Fifth Symphony
the piece ends in seraphic calm.
The razing to the ground
of the village of Lidice by the Nazis
was part of the programme of brutal
reprisals that followed the assassination
of Reinhard Heydrich. The work was premiered
at New York Carnegie Hall on 28 October
1943 - the concert marked the 25th anniversary
of the birth of Czechoslovakia. Artur
Rodzinski conducted the New York Philharmonic
Orchestra. The Czech premiere, given
by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
again with Kubelik conducting, followed
in Prague on 14 March 1946.
Mono although good
sound. Indispensable to any
serious Martinů scion. For the
open-minded there are many worse places
to start your Martinů odyssey.
However you must at the
same time pick up that Turnovsky version
of the Fourth Symphony.