> Bohuslav Martinu [RB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Duo Concertant for Two Violins and Orchestra (1937)
Violin Concerto No. 2 (1943)
Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra (1950)
Jan Pospichal (violin)
Florian Zwiauer (violin)
Vienna SO/Marcello Viotti
rec July 1999, Festspielhaus, Bregenz
ARTE NOVA 74321 77635 2 [69.24]


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Martinu knew the violin from the inside and might in this capacity be compared with Sibelius who at one stage aspired to a soloist's career. ů got as far as the third desk in the second violins of Vaclav Talich's Czech Philharmonic.

The Duo Concertant was written in Nice and premiered in Lausanne by the work's dedicatees, Victor and Georges Desarzens, the latter of whom was to become a conductor. Of three movements the first is busy and just a little time-serving. The middle movement is much stronger - a 7 and a 1/2 minute adagio rising to a frenetic pitch and then subsiding. Bach and Beethoven are influences but Martinuů delicately traces and entwines the solo instruments into what is very satisfying meditation fading ppp. Quite a discovery! There are moments when this sounds like the Holst or Malcolm Arnold Double Concertos or Vaughan Williams' Concerto Accademico. Ths danger is most present in the first movement as the finale is extremely inventive and in this fairly close-up recording every detail registers with warmly intimate proximity - perhaps a bit claustrophobic. The finale has a lovely theme - try 3.34 of track 3. I am not aware of any competition for this work; indeed this recording may be its premiere on disc.

The Violin Concerto No. 2 is better known or at least less obscure. It has been recorded by Josef Suk on a CD with the First Concerto and the Rhapsody Concerto for viola (Supraphon 11 1969-02 011). The work was written for Mischa Elman at his commission. This was one of the earliest patronages of Martinu's dispossessed exile in the USA. The work was premiered in Boston with Koussevitsky and his orchestra on 23 December 1943. Elman had been drawn to Martinu on hearing the premiere of the First Symphony - remember that all six symphonies were written and premiered in the USA.

The contours of its themes are comparable with those in the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. Indeed it is by contrast with the intermittently neo-classical Duo Concertant a much more romantic work in which leaping, tumbling themes rush and slide, scamper and serenade. Martinu's luminously lyrical side predominates. The work will appeal to you if you like the symphonies. The mood span is extensive and this is evidently the work of a man who appears to have reached for a much more inclusive emotional palette. The work sounds well in Pospichal's hands and his tone opens out in a way that the Duo Concertant did not invite. There is some lovely work in the andante moderato - just listen to the answering sigh of the first violins in the opening dialogue with the winds. This Dvorak-inspired heart's ease is done with a natural touch and no shading of insincerity or hollow pastiche. This is a very good performance and the sound-picture opens out with generosity in contrast to the shut-in effect of the Duo Concertant. It lacks the searing edge of the historical performance by Louis Kaufmann on Citadel but is a viable alternative to Josef Suk's Supraphon version recorded in Prague with Vaclav Neumann and the Czech Phil on 24-26 September 1973.

The Double Concerto was written for the Beal Twins (Gerald and Wilfred) and premiered by them in Dallas on 8 January 1951. It has slight traces of the desiccation of the Duo Concertant but majors in the neo-romantic affluent impressionism favoured for the symphonies even if there is a Haydn-like tone to the middle movement. The finale almost pitches into a foot-tapping rumba at one moment and of all the three works this is the closest in idiom and in warmly inventive writing to the masterly Fourth Symphony. Has the Double Concerto been recorded before? I do not recall an alternative version.

This disc complements the Supraphon CD mentioned above and is more than worth its bargain basement price.

The notes provide essential information. Recording quality is much better than the first impressions left by the Duo Concertant may suggest and Martinu's antiphonal effects are lovingly portrayed ... and just listen to the sun-warmed tracery at 4.43 and just before. The last three minutes are joyous and exuberant.

Both violinists tend towards narrow scorching tone and I must say that a fruitier bloom would have been welcome in the Duo Concetant but all is redeemed by the other two works.

Do not miss this disc if you care at all for the lyrical-impressionist strain in twentieth century music.

Rob Barnett

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