Four was to have been the final release in Giorgio Koukl’s
survey of the Complete Piano Music but along comes Volume
Five with two previously unrecorded cycles to intrigue and
amaze the Martinů lover. Not only that but Koukl, who
has enjoyed access to previously unknown or ‘lost’ manuscripts,
has enough material for even more volumes so that we shall
be even more in the collective debt of pianist and record
two cycles here are very early. The Waltzes date from 1910
and the Polkas from 1916. If we take the Five Waltzes first
we can appreciate how, although broadly conventional, they
look further afield geographically than one might expect.
The First, an Andante, owes something to Albéniz and if the
third is more straightforward in its affiliations it certainly
lacks for little in boldness. The last of them is undoubtedly
the most noteworthy and the most affecting. It’s lyric, quite
slow and very different from the preceding more stylised
affair. The harmonies in No.11 tend to the slightly more
aggressively impressionist in places and there is rich chording
and then a ruminative, almost wistful close.
Polkas were written in the middle of World War I and there
are six of them. One notices immediately the composer’s happy
penchant for erratic phrase lengths which gives the music
an unbalanced, tensile verve even within the obvious constraints
of the form. The opening Polka is quite Dvořákian though
it sports some intriguing harmonic drifts in the writing.
The second is perhaps more closely aligned with the older
Czech figure with a powerful Slavonic Dance feel to boot.
By the Third we move more into Chopinesque waters; it’s rather
a statuesque piece, this one, but the lilting central section
is more fluent. Moving between treble and bass sonorities
No.4 creates its own intensity, whilst No.5 employs busier
Chopin–inspired figuration to make its points which it does
to better effect in its dreamy B section. The final Polka
presents a more fully extrovert Chopin derived face; well
assimilated though not especially distinctive. I think it’s
fair to say that it would be well nigh impossible to guess
the composer except for a few possible - very possible -
intimations in the opening Polka.
again Koukl is the most distinguished guide and his excavation
and retrieval work will, one hopes, lead not only to those
further volumes but publication and public performances.
These newly retrieved pieces tell us something, at least,
about the composer’s development, and his enthusiasms. I
would start with the lovely Fifth Waltz both to enjoy the
writing at its most engaging and to appreciate Koukl’s playing
at its more devoted.
see also review by