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MARTINU The Knife's Tears and The Voice of the Forest     Prague Philharmonia/Jiri Belohlavek with soloists  Supraphon SU 3386-2 631 61'43"

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These two short radio operas contrast well. The first is a Dadaist, avant-garde one-acter which was turned down by the 1928 Baden-Baden Contemporary Music festival because of its 'shocking' libretto, and never performed in Martinu's lifetime. It involves a young woman falling in love with a hanged man and killing herself because he doesn't reciprocate; that restores him to life - - - ! Lively, jazzy music, very enjoyable & well performed and recorded, featuring Hana Jonasova as the young woman with strange marital tastes, Lenka Smidova and her mother and Roman Janal (baritone) as Satan. .

The Voice of the Forest was commissioned by Prague radio and broadcast 1935. Much more a Czech piece, melodic and in Martinu's familiar style. There is a larger cast, with a chorus of bandits. Again well-played and sung, with good balance. Composed around the same time as Comedy on the Bridge it does not merit its neglect since then.

For CD opera collectors, it is interesting to note that Martinu believed in the positive benefits of eliminating visual presentation, writing that the concentration demanded from the listener at home enhanced the intensity of the drama.

The presentation is lavish but odd. There is, of course, only one CD, but two booklets are accommodated in the inch-thick double jewel case. The slimmer one gives details of cast, timings and notes of the genesis of these pieces, and the usual biographies, multilingually.

The other provides the libretti in four languages, but the pagination has gone awry, with Czech + French texts backed by the English & German version! This is a serious irritation for those who like to follow both the original words being sung and English (or German) translation simultaneously, to keep track what is happening. The mistake arose from putting p.2 on the right hand page, instead of odd numbers to the right, which is a virtually universal convention. In such eventful operas it really does matter. That apart, this is a welcome release. (Czech accents omitted throughout; sorry!)


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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