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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Symphony No. 5 H310 (1946) [30:24]
Symphony No. 6 Fantaisies Symphoniques H343 (1951-53) [27:11]
Memorial to Lidice H296 (1943) [8:38]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl

rec. Rudolfinum Studio, Prague, 21-23 Mar 1955 (5); 23-24 Feb 1956 (6); 20 Mar 1957 (Lidice). AAD mono
Karel Ančerl Gold Edition Vol. 34

SUPRAPHON SU 3694-2 001 [66:31]

These recordings, conveniently grouped for the first time, form the basis for any serious Martinů shelf. Together with the Munch Sixth they give an indispensable artistic-historical perspective. It is down to these classic recordings, made within a decade or so of the premieres, that Martinů's symphonies travelled into homes across the world. For many years until the mid-1970s arrival of the stereo Neumann set they were the symphonies’ only representation in the catalogue. Intriguingly it was Ančerl, then politically in favour, rather than Kubelik who made these cornerstone recordings. One wonders how the latter would have made these works sound. While wondering perhaps someone could also speculate on why Ančerl never recorded the others (allowing for the radio broadcast based Multisonic set of numbers 1,3 and 5). A later Supraphon entry was from an Ančerl pupil, Martin Turnovsky. Turnovsky's still matchless stereo Fourth Symphony is just as important if not more so because the that work stands at the peak of Martinů's exuberant, dynamic, plangent symphonism. You can hear the Turnovsky on an unmissable Warner Apex budget price issue (0927 49822 2).

The Fifth Symphony was dedicated to the Czech Philharmonic. Despite being written in the USA it was premiered by the dedicatees who were conducted by Rafael Kubelik on 28 May 1947 as part of the Prague Spring Festival.

Ančerl is unhurried but not languid. He has a healthy instinct for the essential tension, rhythmic insistence and joy of Martinů's music. His masterly sense of pacing is evident especially in the finale of the Fifth. It should not go without saying that Ančerl's orchestra, which once included the young Martinů in the violin section under Talich, is idiosyncratic in timbre, resinous and fulsome in bloom. On the subject of the Fifth note writer, Jaroslav Holeček points up the similarities with the Fourth. I am not at all sure that they are that strong. The Fifth's predecessor is a work of much greater brilliance sometimes suggesting a concerto for orchestra although finally and triumphantly symphonic in its weight and trajectory. I wonder what an Ančerl Fourth would sound like? We have Kubelik's Fourth (see his volume of the EMI/IMG ‘Great Conductors of the Century’ series) but no Ančerl.

After too short a break the Sixth Symphony begins with its buzzing, warm, insect-swarming, bubbling understated yet taut expectation ... that sense of feathered wings beating at the window. Ančerl does not over-dramatise. In fact he projects everything with an affectionate tenderness: listen to the last few minutes of the first movement. He is also good at bringing out the irresistible fast-fluent melancholia in the middle movement from 01.00 onwards. The strings of the orchestra render the scalpel-poignant writing in the finale with sensitivity while at the same time playing it full-on. The string writing might occasionally suggest RVW's Tallis but also looks to Josef Suk's Meditation and Asrael.

The provisional first version of Symphony No. 6 was completed in 1951 with its definitive score appearing two years later. Serge Koussevitsky was the dedicatee but it was Charles Munch, his successor at Boston, who conducted the Boston Symphony in the work's premiere in Boston on 7 January 1955 and then recorded it for RCA. The Czech premiere took place in Prague on 8 February 1956 conducted by Ančerl.

The almost Brahmsian peace of the end of the Sixth makes way for the Lidice Memorial written between the First and Second symphonies. News of the atrocity had finally reached the USA. There is anger here as well as anxiety although tremblingly meditative angst is predominant. The anger surfaces in music recalling RVW's Fourth Symphony. At the peak (7:20) in an enigmatic Germanic gesture the ‘fate’ motif from Beethoven's Fifth rings out momentarily from the brass desks. As with the Fifth Symphony the piece ends in seraphic calm.

The razing to the ground of the village of Lidice by the Nazis was part of the programme of brutal reprisals that followed the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. The work was premiered at New York Carnegie Hall on 28 October 1943 - the concert marked the 25th anniversary of the birth of Czechoslovakia. Artur Rodzinski conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The Czech premiere, given by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra again with Kubelik conducting, followed in Prague on 14 March 1946.

Mono although good sound. Indispensable to any serious Martinů scion. For the open-minded there are many worse places to start your Martinů odyssey. However you must at the same time pick up that Turnovsky version of the Fourth Symphony.

Rob Barnett

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