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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959) Vánoce (1926) [6'56]; Trois esquisses (1926) [6'13]; Quatre mouvements (1929) [7'58]; Avec un doigta (1930) [0'34]; To Božánek and Soničkaa (1932) [2'38]; Lístek do památniku (1935/6) [1'11]; Dumka No. 1 (1936) [2'38]; Dumka No. 2 (1936) [2'25]; Julietta (Act 2, Scene 3) (1938) [3'16]; Fenêtre sur le jardin (1938) [8'18]; Mazurka (1941) [2'16]; Dumka No. 3 (1941) [2'07]; Merry Christmas 1941 to Hope Castagnola (1941) [4'02]; The Fifth Day of the Fifth Moon (1948) [3'02]; Les bouquinistes du quai Malaquais (1948) [1'26]; Barcarolle (1949) [1'40]; Improvisation (1951) [0'51]; Piano Sonata (1954) [18'38]; Adagio (1957) [3'01]
Erik Entwistle (piano) with aWilliam Freedberg (piano). Rec The Sonic Temple, Roslindale, Mass., USA, March 15th, April 30th and May 21st, 2003. DDD



Thanks are due to Erik Entwistle and Summit Records for this useful disc of Martinů piano music, a recital that includes no less than ten CD premieres and spans thirty years.

Summit programmes the meatiest work, the Piano Sonata, as the penultimate item - a brief Adagio, the composer’s last piano work, closes the recital poignantly. Written for Rudolf Serkin, no less, its improvisatory nature is hugely appealing, not least because of Martinů’s skilful background organisation. This is very active music, very exciting, almost virtuoso towards the end. Here, as always, Entwistle’s reading is a model of its kind. The aura of stasis that pervades the ‘Moderato (poco andante)’, replete with Janáček-like tremolandi at its climax makes for telling contrast, while the finale allows for a near ecstatic close.

Entwistle, a member of Harvard’s Music Faculty, is a Czech music specialist; his dissertation was entitled, ‘Martinů in Paris: A Synthesis of Musical Styles and Symbols’. His ease with the idiom is clear in every note he plays, and his evident enthusiasm for this repertoire results in even the smallest miniature being enlivened from within. The only small fly in the ointment is the recording quality – ideally a little more depth to the sound-image would have been ideal.

The disc itself begins with the playful three-movement Suite Vánoce (‘Christmas’), with its ever-so-sweet yet perfectly constructed outer movements (entitled ‘The Sled’ and ‘Christmas Carol’ respectively) and its gorgeous central Lullaby; try around 0’40, when treble and bass are separated for an example of Martinů’s textural mastery. From the same year, the Trois Esquisses (which remained unpublished until 1965) is a set of three miniatures each invoking a different popular style: Blues, Tango and Charleston. Entwistle in particular seems to enjoy the ‘cute’ jazz influence of the Blues and the near honky-tonk finale, while injecting a certain amount of sleaze into the more diffuse Tango.

The Quatre Mouvements are in Martinů’s Czech folk style. Each is beautifully constructed. The first is strangely clumsy, as if a little tipsy, the second playfully humorous, the finale a juxtaposition of polka and waltz. It is the third movement (Adagio) that is the emotional heart of the work, though, with its ominous bass tremolandi and its heart-rending chords. Superb, and Entwistle pulls no punches here.

Avec un doigt (cheeky end!) and To Božánek and Sonička reveal Martinů’s ease of invention with the simple, while Lístek do památniku (‘Album leaf’) and the first two Dumkas are more mature works. Of more than passing interest is the excerpt from the opera Julietta whose subject of ill-fated romance took on a personal slant with the composer’s relationship with Kaprálová. Rudolf Firkušný was present at the work’s premiere and requested an arrangement of this particular part of Act 2 Scene 3. Czech-Impressionist yet devoid of any superfluous doodling, this is touching in the extreme. And, as the booklet notes point out, longing is again the theme for the cycle Fenętre sur le jardin, composed in the village of Vieux-Moulin, north of Paris, where the composer awaited news of his beloved Kaprálová’s efforts to return to Paris from Moravia.  Tinges of longing do indeed mark the first movement (including some memorable ‘blue’ notes), the pentatonicism of the second movement is moving, while the suddenly acidic finale acts to dispel the shadows.

The hesitant, shadowy nature of the Mazurka can be explained when one realises it was the first work he completed in the USA - it is written in memory of the pianist Paderewski. Yet the shaft of light at the end surely symbolises hope …

The third Dumka is a birthday present for Martinů’s friend Frantisek Rybka (‘Happy Birthday to You’ is surely embedded therein, but it is the beautiful close that lingers in the memory. The memorably entitled Merry Christmas 1941 to Hope Castagnola is the epitome of optimism with its playful staccati. The sudden melancholy at 1’30 just means you hear the opening material as happier the second time round!

The Fifth Day of the Fifth Moon, after a poem by Su Tung Po, makes perhaps predictable but no less magical for that use of the pentatonic scale. This is a real gem of a piece in its delicacy. Its companion piece (Les bouquinistes du quai Malaquiais) is perfect in its controlled ebullience. Finally two miniatures require our attention, the gentle Barcarolle (miraculously played by Entwistle) and the brief, happy Improvisation.

There is a huge amount to discover here, and I do encourage you to seek out this delightful disc.

Colin Clarke




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