> MARTINU Symphony 4 Ansermet VEL2007 [RB]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Frescoes of Piero della Francesca (1956) [17.07]
Parables (1958) [21.28]
Symphony No. 4 (1945) [33.57]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec Victoria Hall, Genève, 22 Feb 1961 (Frescoes); 15 March 1967 (Sym); 28 Feb 1962. MONO. ADD
From the radio archives of Radio Suisse Romande, Espace 2.
CASCAVELLE VEL 2007 [73.39]


Cascavelle is a small Swiss label the catalogue of which is distinguished by a substantial number of discs of the music of Frank Martin and by this one of music by a composer whose home for several years was Switzerland.

Cascavelle's 'OSR Mémoires' series includes Ansermet conducting de Falla's Atlantide, Berg's violin concerto (Menuhin), Nights in the Gardens of Spain (Casadesus) as well as several Frank Martin anthologies, the most promising being archive broadcasts of Le Mystère de la Nativité and Pilate. I am not sure if they are still available but you could also pick up discs of radio tapes featuring Beecham in three Mozart symphonies K297, K385 and K543, Markevich in Le Sacre and his own Psaume and Fournier in cello concertos by Shostakovich, Martinu and Schumann.

The present three Martinů tapes were taken by Radio Suisse Romande in live concerts. They are unsophisticated in sound but the glare is not extreme. More to the point they capture Ansermet in glowing form.

Ansermet's Frescoes seethe and erupt in a molten mosaic of sound. Lyrical lines fly and collide in over-brimming melodic affluence. Ansermet brings out the Stravinskian edginess of this score but also we hear the sheer flailing violence of the piece with more impact than in any other recording I have heard.

The Frescoes were composed in Nice in 1955 and dedicated to Rafael Kubelik who premiered the work in 1956 in Salzburg. The work is inspired by a series of fresco panels by della Francesca (1416-1492). The panels are Les suivantes de la reine de Saba; Le songe de Constantin; Les batailles, autres fresques.

Ansermet is just as vital in the symphony which, for me, is the most successful of the six. The war-time Fourth is Martinů's most lyrical, heart-easing and dynamic inspiration - truly a gripping symphony flooded with light and courage. I was deeply impressed by the pressure and lively rushing power Ansermet brings to this work. The impression is given of an orchestra being whipped furiously along without a trace of gabble or garbled consonants. The grip might slacken a little in the allegro vivo (II) but not by much. The wide striding largo of the third movement has more tragedy about it than I recall from the Martin Turnovsky or Jiri Behlolavek versions. the former being my reference version, sadly no longer available on CD. The Poco allegro is furiously exciting though the rhythmic grip is not as tight as in the Turnovsky.

The Parables, after poems by George Neveu (librettist of Martinů's opera Julietta which I hope to review soon in the Supraphon recording) and Antoine de Saint-Exupery, are in three movements - The Parable of a sculptor; The Parable of the garden; The Parable of the labyrinth. It was dedicated to Charles Munch who premiered the Sixth Symphony in Boston and soon after recorded it in mono with RCA. The work dates from 1957 and 1958 the first two movements having been written in Rome and the last one at Paul Sacher's home in Pratteln. The Parables bubble with imagination and light but there are other dimensions too. The string writing suggests a Sibelian link - redolent of the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies and sometimes of Vaughan Williams Sixth Symphony. In several of the movements a rough-reeded rustic piping voice suggests Provençal dances or Auvergnat landscapes. This jostles with a phantasmal or wraith-like element also to be found in another visionary work of his last years - The Epic of Gilgamesh.

There are notes by Ansermet and they are in French, German and English.

The present disc was first issued in 1991 and I regret that it has taken me this long to catch up with it. Would that the BBC Third Programme had kept its tapes of the Martinu Symphony cycles conducted by Vilem Tausky in the 1950s and by Christopher Adey and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in circa 1974. Does anyone have off-air tapes of these. I thought Adey excellent in the earlier symphonies. As for Tausky he is much more than the gifted light music conductor we came to him know him as via Matinée Musicale and his work with the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Definitely worth seeking out not least because it provides evidence that Ansermet was evidently a very much more vital conductor when in front of an audience than when confronted by the recording studio's microphones, booms and mixing desks.

Cascavelle have a website if you have any difficulty in finding the disc.

Provided stereo perfection is not a priority Martinů enthusiasts will have a major lacuna in their shelves if they do not have this. Wonderful Martinů playing.

Rob Barnett

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