Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Symphony No. 6 Fantaisies Symphoniques (1953) [27.14]
Bouquet of Flowers (1937) [47.40]
Libuse Domaninská (sop)
Sora Dervená (alto)
Lubomír Havlák (ten)
Ladislav Mráz (bass-bar)
Kühn Children's Chorus
Czech Philharmonic Chorus
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ancerl
rec Dvorák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, 23-24 Feb 1956 (symphony); 30 April, 2-5 May 1955 (Bouquet) MONO AAD
SUPRAPHON 11 1932-2901 [75.04]



Supraphon have done well to keep so much of their finest Martinu archive recordings in the catalogue. Of course they also have blank spots. Some of the most unaccountable include the inexplicable neglect of 1960s stereo tapes including Sasa Vectomov 's Martinu Cello Concerto No. 2 and Martin Turnovsky's unequalled version of the luminous Fourth Symphony not to mention Zdenek Hnat's late 1970s LP of the tension-filled Toccata e Due Canzone. Josef Suk's Wartime Triptych was brilliantly done by Alois Klima but this too lurks in the Supraphon coffers shedding iron oxide particles and accruing print-through.

For years the present version of the Sixth Symphony was the only one available. It played catch as catch can with another mono version in the 50s, 60s and 70s. This was the Munch recording on RCA. The work had of course been written for Munch and the Boston orchestra. Regrettably the Boston engineers captured a recording rather lacking in lustre. The Ancerl always commanded the high ground. Until the arrival of Dr Michael Bialoguski's 1970s recording on Unicorn the two had the field to themselves. Neumann's undervalued cycle was issued on Supraphon in the mid-1970s and is well worth reassessment. As the 80s and 90s unrolled the options opened up with cycles from Järvi (BIS), Thomson (Chandos), Flor (RCA), Fagen (Naxos) amongst others. Ancerl's while lacking the draw of a modern recording sounds very well. The buzzing energy and tension were recognised with the award in 1960 Grand Prix du Disque de l'Académie Charles Cros. The recording was made while the composer was still alive as indeed was the Bouquet. The symphony has a low dramatic profile making its effect in delicacy rather than drama. It seems to drift in fantastic dream from warm insect clouded summer fields to cradling marine-scapes which are more of the Mediterranean than of the Cape Cod estate on which he stayed in those days.

The Bouquet of Flowers is a cycle of settings for solo voices, chorus and orchestra of texts by Karl Erben whose grim tales fuelled The Spectre's Bride and the late tetralogy of Dvorak tone poems which includes The Water Goblin. It is a highly spiced setting, folk-naïf in the sung parts but sophisticated in the orchestral role which includes a prominent part for the solo piano. It is a full three-quarters of an hour in duration and is pleasing but undemanding. One can imagine this as a sort of Czech analogue for Vaughan Williams' First Nowell though without an orator. Martinu wrote it in 1937 dedicating it to the painter Jan Zrzavy. It was premiered on Prague Radio conducted by Otakar Jeremias. The composer never heard the work in any other form than as a crackly radio relay. The cycle is in two parts: six sections in Part I and two in Part II. The folk texts are printed in full in the booklet alongside a parallel English translation.

You might plausibly have expected that Martinu would have attended the recording sessions or would have heard the recordings. However the political conditions of the 1950s denied him even this.

Mono though hardly the deeply enriched signal captured by the best contemporary engineers in the West. If you expect a sound comparable with the Beulah Sibelius Collins series you are in for a disappointment. Respectable sound but not outstanding and certainly holding fascination.
Rob Barnett

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