The appearance of new Martinů CDs is very much more common
these days. Three of the four CDs of works for violin/viola and
orchestra from Hyperion and Matousek works are already out (see
That admirable set will soon be completed. What can this disc
For years the Second Violin Concerto
was known only from the Josef Suk recording on Supraphon.
Since then the historic recording by Louis Kaufman (see review)
has appeared alongside several other newer ones including that
by Jennifer Koh on Cedille (see review).
Faust and Bělohlávek are not going to make your choice
easier by turning in a poor version. This is in fact vibrant
and taut music-making and Faust is tense, emotive and ardent.
She reveals Martinů, the latter-day Bruch, in the lissom,
nostalgic and poetic andante. Some of the sensational angst
of the first movement carries over into the spark-flittering
excitement of the cantabile finale. Like so many of his
works of the American years this is a superb piece. It was commissioned
by Mischa Elman (1891-1967) after he heard Martinů's First
Symphony in 1943. The concerto was composed in New York the
same year and premiered by Elman in Boston on 31 December
The Serenade No. 2 for strings
moves panther-like with harkings back to Haydn and Mozart. It's
a touching work of concise expressiveness and while broadly
neo-classical remembers that music should have a heart. It is
no surprise to learn that it is a product of the Paris years
and was composed in 1932.
It is so welcome that we now have the
Toccata e Due Canzoni restored to easy circulation.
I still hanker for a reissue of Zdeňek Hnat's Supraphon
LP (SUP 110 1619) of this work coupled with the Sinfonietta
La Jolla. However this version is outstanding. Bělohlávek
and Tiberghien communicate tension bordering on hysteria in
the first movement. In that sense it is rather like the best
performances – for example, Sejna - of the Double Concerto
for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani is there. Also
a presence is lyrical liberation. Indelibly memorable is the
repeated piano figure in the second movement. Despite references
to neo-Baroque style the final Canzona is touching and
communicatively humane - not at all perfunctory. Indeed the
Toccata e Due Canzoni deserves much
more attention than it has had. It is one of Martinů's
strongest works. This work was commissioned by Paul Sacher (1906-99)
and was premiered by him with the Basler Kammerorchester on
21 January 1947 in a concert alongside Stravinsky's Concerto
in D and Honegger's Symphony No. 4.
Harmonia Mundi's artistic values have
always been high and the good long gap of silence between works
shows impeccable taste.
This is a powerful and valuable Martinů
anthology and one I would commend as an introduction to the composer
alongside the magnificent Warner Classics reissue (see
review) of Martin Turnovsky in the Fourth Symphony.