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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Symphony No. 3
Symphony No. 5
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Arthur Fagen
Rec 10-15 March 1995, Grand Studio, Ukraine National Radio, Kiev
NAXOS 8.553350 [60.31] Superbudget

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Martinu turned to composing symphonies only when he had passed the age of fifty. To some extent this was an opportunity occasioned by circumstance, since the Symphony No. 1 was commissioned by Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, after the composer had arrived in the United States from Europe, fleeing the Nazi threat during the early years of the war.

Having embarked upon his symphonic odyssey, Martinu found that the genre suited him, and he produced a symphony a year for the next four years, making five in all. Then he went on to complete his symphonic collection a few years later with his Sixth.

Arthur Fagen and the Ukraine orchestra recorded the Third and Fifth symphonies back in 1995, and this issue completes their Martinu cycle. The results here are rather as they were with previous issues in the series, which can be summarised as good but not outstanding. Make no mistake, these performances do give much pleasure, since the orchestra plays with spirit and discipline, and the recording is truthful. But neither the playing nor the sound is of the front rank, and collectors can find greater rewards elsewhere. Best of all, if you can find it, is the Chandos set with Bryden Thomson conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra; but there are also various recordings by Czech forces, including some very fine performances conducted by Jiri Behlolavek.

Both the Third and Fifth symphonies have three movements, and both play for around half an hour. The Third is the more tragic of the two, possibly because the war was at a darker stage when it was written. Be that as it may, the music generates an intense drama which Fagen conveys well. In the final analysis, however, neither the orchestral playing nor the recorded sound really makes Martinu's powerful conception blaze with the commitment it can generate.

The Fifth is no less dynamic, but the outlook is more radiant. Indeed the radiance of his string writing is one of Martinu's special strengths, and it can certainly be experienced to the full in this remarkable symphony. Make no mistake, although performances of Martinu are still few and far between in our concert halls, his music is direct and approachable and inspired. He is undoubtedly a major symphonist, and that message comes through loud and clear on this appealing disc.

Terry Barfoot


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