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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Elegy for violin and piano H3 (1909) [11.05]*
Concerto for violin and piano H13 (1910) [26.42]*
Sonata in C major for violin and piano H120 (1919) [32.14]
Sonata in D minor for violin and piano H152 (1926) [16.55]
Impromptu H166 [5.28]
Violin Sonata No. 1 (1929) [17.05]
Five Short Pieces for violin and piano (1929) [11.04]*
Bohuslav Matoušek (violin)
Petr Adamec (piano)
rec. Martinů Hall, Lichtenstein Palace, Prague, July 1996 - Apr 1998. DDD
Sponsored by the Bohuslav Martinů Foundation, Prague and Basle
Works for violin and piano 2 - First Complete Edition
SUPRAPHON SU 3410-2 132 [2CDs: 70.20+50.57]

Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Arietta for violin and piano H188A (1930) [1.50]
Violin Sonata No. 2 H208 (1931) [12.19]
Seven Arabesques - Rhythmic Etudes for violin and piano H201A (1931) [14.33]
Sonata in G major for violin and piano H262 (1937) [8.33]
Intermezzo - Four pieces for violin and piano H261 (1937) [10.52]
Rhythmic Etudes for violin and piano H202 (1931) [13.37]
Five Madrigal Stanzas for violin and piano H297 (1943) [10.37]
Violin Sonata No. 3 H303 (1944) [27.33]
Czech Rhapsody for violin and piano H307 (1947) [10.06]*
Bohuslav Matoušek (violin)
Petr Adamec (piano)
rec. Martinů Hall, Lichtenstein Palace, Prague, July 1996 - Apr 1998. DDD
Sponsored by the Bohuslav Martinů Foundation, Prague and Basle
Works for violin and piano 2 - First Complete Edition
SUPRAPHON SU 3412-2 132 [2CDs: 48.49+62.00]

Never in a commercial release has Martinů's oeuvre for violin and piano been attempted with such exhaustive coverage. While the three violin sonatas have been recorded quite a few times most of the other pieces in these two dual CD sets have stayed resolutely out of the catalogue. And these include some pretty enigmatic material.

Martinů's music for violin and piano stretches from the Elegy of 1909 to the Czech Rhapsody of 1945.

Amongst his first compositions is the 1909 Elegy with its sub-title of 'Evil Returns'. This is music of the grandest ambition and the melodramatic announcement by the piano suggests the composer knew his Grieg Piano Concerto. The angry, Hispanic pomp and sturdy pride of the violin touched also with the smoky romance of the Ziegeunerweisen is also surprising. None of this sounds anything like the Martinů we know. It is a most startling piece and was not at all the salon nonentity I had suspected.

The Elegy's passion is not carried over into the so-called ‘Concerto for violin and piano’. This instead is a triptych of song statements with salon Dvořák and perhaps popular Bruch in the veins. It is not to be confused with the Double Concerto for violin, piano and orchestra of the 1950s to which it bears no resemblance or connection at all. It is an essentially undemanding and unambitious piece. The unnumbered Sonata in C major owes its dues to the Franck sonata and might also be paired with the Dunhill Second Sonata and the Goossens First … both of 1918. After a Mephisto scherzo comes a powerful Largo and the Franckian melos returns in flowing spate for the final Allegro. In its last minutes the music rises to a majesty equal to that of the finale of John Foulds’ Cello Sonata with only the merest hint of 'throaty' unsteadiness from Matoušek.

The second disc of volume 1 moves onwards with a work which starts to sound more like the Martinů we know - albeit early Martinů. The D minor sonata (still unnumbered) dates from his Parisian years and his studies with Roussel. More importantly in the rhythmic liveliness of the outer movements it marks encounters with jazz. Dissonance is more in evidence than in the works on CD1. The sonata's second movement andante cleverly uses a suave romantic theme of the type that appeared in the H13 Concerto and the C major sonata but disrupts it with small harmonic collisions that give the music a dreamy disorientation. The composer is here in transition with the baggage of his Prague studies (late romantic) mixed with the first stirrings of individuality. The three movement Impromptu shows an even stronger personality with three micro movements making free with dissonance and dream states - chaffing and soliloquising - lively and thoughtful.

The first numbered Violin Sonata emerged at the end of his jazz phase in 1929 and as the notewriter says picks up on the all-conquering influence of the Rhapsody in Blue (tr.9 2.58) and does so amongst other devices through many solo passages for the violin.

The Five Short Pieces were dedicated to Martinů's friend and biographer Miloš Šafránek who was cultural attaché at the Czechoslovak embassy in Paris. Only in the rather manic allegro vivo (tr.13) do we recognise the typical Martinů voice. They are otherwise rather oblique and dry essays.

The second set will be balm to the Martinu fan reeling from volume 1 with its many unfamiliarities. The Arietta starts with a typically singing melody and matches it with a ragtime jumpiness. From the year afterwards comes the Violin Sonata No. 2. It is short, Stravinskian in part, active with neo-Baroque touches especially in the heartless, machine-like allegro music which also adds a flavour of the mephisto voice from the Sonata in C major of 1919. A placid serenity, hymn-like, hangs over the larghetto (tr.3) which gains additional savour from the dusting of dissonance. The hallmark Martinů harmonies of 2.49 (tr. 3) remind us that even amid his deeply neo-classical period the essential juices of his blazing maturity are there.

The Seven Arabesques are subtitled Rhythmic Etudes. They were commissioned by Deiss, his Parisian publisher. They can be played on either violin or cello. While the Moderato and Allegro (trs. 6 and 8) sometimes sound a little like Dvořák's Humoresque there is much in these didactic pieces to please. The andante moderato is a classic example of Martinů immersed in a dream state - no wonder he warmed to Georges Neveux's play Julietta and turned it into an opera.

The 1937 Sonatina is designed for young players yet satisfies in its own right with enough of Martinů's distinctive writing to announce the work as personal. It comes from the same year as Julietta, the String Quartet No. 4 and the Duo Concertante for two violins and orchestra. The Intermezzo of 1937 and the 1927 Impromptu are surprisingly in multiple movements; the 1927 work in three; the 1937 piece in four. This work is again intended for teaching purposes but this time is pleasingly closer to the Dvořákian salon than to world-weary or sensually ecstatic Martinů.

The second CD of volume 2 opens with the Rhythmic Etudes H202 from 1931. This is more interesting than anything else although a Martinů melody floats free in the Poco Allegretto (CD2 tr.2). They are intended for advanced amateurs and the single stave piano part is designed to leave the solo violin line artfully exposed.

Martinů was fond of Madrigal form and wrote many chamber works to which he attached that title. The Madrigal Stanzas of 1943 come from his New York years. They are dedicated to Albert Einstein whose works he read but confessed to not understanding. Einstein was an amateur violinist and the writing takes this into account. That notwithstanding this is a fully personal statement and must be heard by any dedicated Martinů enthusiast.

The Third Sonata plays for almost a half hour. It is the most extensive of his violin sonatas. The booklet notes the feeling of weightlessness that pervades the Adagio (CD2 tr. 14) and this carries over after a skittish scherzo into the dreamily sauntering and nostalgically inclined Lento opening of the finale which gradually becomes increasingly animated.

Martinů's last work for violin and piano was the wistful Czech Rhapsody. It is dedicated to the Martinůs' family friend, Fritz Kreisler. It sings with those stepwise upwards aspirational melodies we know from the Fourth Symphony (CD2 tr. 17, 8.20). Its temperament is well suited to Kreisler with certain sections echoing the spirit of Dvořák's Humoresque but its technical demands would almost certainly have been beyond the reach of the seventy year old violinist.

The notes are good (allowing for a scattering of typos) as is the recording quality. Matoušek tends towards huskiness of tone and sometimes I thought the piano was rather backwardly recorded but nothing seriously untowards.

The encyclopedic emphasis of these two sets has been achieved through funding from the Bohuslav Martinů Foundation.

What is the role of these two sets? It is to ensure that students and fans can follow Martinů's development. That is achieved in remarkably chronological fashion from one set to the other and from one disc to the next. The three sonatas have been recorded before and Fredell Lack on Centaur is excellent in this connection perhaps with a more generous tone than Matoušek. The Supraphons do bring out into the sunlight some very fine works. I will certainly return to the powerful Elegy even if it is completely atypical. The Arietta is lovely as also is the Czech Rhapsody which maybe shares the homesick essence of the Slovak Folk Song Variations (cello and piano on SU 3586-2 112). The Madrigal Stanzas and some of the Rhythmic Etudes are well worth hearing as also are the dreamy andante moderato of the Seven Arabesques and the Largo of the unnumbered C major sonata.

Rob Barnett



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