With this disc Supraphon
launch a spanking
new series of the Martinů symphonies
to compete with Neumann (ADD, Supraphon,
excellent but somewhat dated analogue),
Flor (BMG-RCA, deleted but surely worth
a box reissue), Fagen (Naxos, under-powered),
Järvi (Bis, outstanding) and Thomson
(Chandos - reputedly good).
six symphonies are pretty tightly grouped,
chronologically speaking, (apart from
the sixth). They form the core of Martinů's
penultimate period (1940-45). All were
written in the USA in refuge from an
otherwise murderous fate in Europe.
They carry a sharper cargo of nostalgia
because they were written in exile and
the Third is strong in this respect.
Its currency is a warm blend of homesickness
The recording throughout
is of startling subtlety and this can
be heard to grand but least spectacular
effect at the end of the Third Symphony.
The admirable spatial image can be heard
in the first three minutes of the second
movement. Supraphon have captured a
surprisingly refined yet vivacious image.
Listen to the little orchestral shudders
at 1.01 on the right hand channel in
the first movement. In the third movement
this version comes into its own in honeyed
yet uncloying radiance. There is even
a bardic piano at 4.03 in the second
movement; it is, for all the world,
like an interjection from Bax's Symphonic
Variations. The slow movement has
a time-stilling quality - almost Delian
almost Sibelian. The mind’s eye conjures
brooks and tributaries, spring bubbling
and rivulets coursing.
has recorded the Fourth Symphony twice
before. The first version came out on
a modestly priced Panton disc (1205
2011). There he conducted Prague Symphony
Orchestra in a recording made in the
House of Artists in Prague on 24 and
25 June 1979. The coupling was the Fifth
Symphony conducted by Otakar Trhlik.
I strongly suspect that both were Czech
radio tapes licensed for commercial
issue and issued AAD. They are fine
readings though the comparatively opaque
quality might bother the more fastidious.
His exuberant second
effort is likely to have made its way
into many collections. This is the Chandos
recording on CHAN 9138 made on 18 and
19 September 1992. As with the present
Supraphon disc the orchestra there was
the redoubtable Czech Philharmonic.
This might well have become a cycle
but the Chandos connection with Bĕlohlávek
ended with only symphonies 1, 4 and
6 under the Couzens’ belt. Chandos's
high calorie balance is gorgeously plush
and not lacking in detail. This time
the recording was in DDD but the coupling
is not as logical: Field Mass and
the Lidice Memorial.
timings for No. 4 remain pretty similar.
The Panton Fourth: 32.56; Chandos 33.34
as against the 33.40 of Supraphon. The
interpretation has both lambency and
panache. In this
work Martinů shows himself a magician
of the orchestra and matches this with
luxuriant thematic and rhythmic invention.
This is most impressive. The finale’s
horn-lofted exuberance is excitingly
put across with a tawny ‘burble’ accenting
the joyously emphatic pay-off.
This compares well with the highly coloured
and zestful pioneering version by Martin
Turnovsky again with the Czech Phil.
The Turnovsky times at 31.51 and remains
a reference version if you can take
the 1967-8 ADD sound on Warner Apex
0927 49822 2. Ansermet's version with
the Suisse Romande orchestra although
in mono is extremely good also.
The only really flawed
version in the mêlée is
that by Arthur Fagen which at 36.02
is flaccid and lacking drive quite apart
from being awash in the percussion balance
(Naxos 8.553349). I have not heard the
Walter Weller version on an old 1975
EMI LP nor the Bryden Thomson on Chandos.
The Jarvi on Bis is rip-roaringly good
(33.12 on Bis CD1371/1372) but in the
last movement short-changes the horn
choir in the pay-off energico.
Neumann on the old Supraphon 1970s ADD
set is excellent. There was to have
been a 1980s Neumann digital cycle of
the symphonies but only one disc was
completed: symphonies 3 and 6 issued
Financial support for
the present project
comes from the Bohuslav Martinů
Foundation of Prague.
recording was made with the benefit
of scholarly revisions by Sandra Bergmannová
(who also wrote the booklet notes) and
Aleš Březina for the Third and
Sharon Chloa for the Fourth.
Pushed into choice
of the Fourth by itself you have to
hear the Turnovsky. At Apex prices it
is not a difficult choice and the finale
has never been so excitingly recorded
as it was for those 1967 sessions. In
the finale, a real touchstone for performers
and conductors, Turnovsky’s horn section
are given a bells-up edgy prominence
that has not been equalled though Bĕlohlávek
comes close. However if you want to
track a complete Martinů set in
the best modern sound, go for this one.
All in all this is
an auspicious launch for the first fresh
cycle of the new century. Supraphon
deserve to find a ready and appreciative
market as Martinů’s star continues