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Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Huit Préludes pour le piano (1948)
Guitare – Quatre pièces brèves pour piano (1933)
Fantasie sur des rhythms flamenco (1973)
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)

Prélude, Ariosi et Fughette sur le nom de Bach (1932)
Le Cahier romand (1921-23)
Sept pièces brèves (1919-20)
Klaus Sticken (piano)
Recorded Radio Bremen Sendesaal and Bayerischer Rundfunk 2001-03
THOROFON CTH 2478 [65.11]


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Neither composer, of course, was much known for piano composition and in that shop-soiled critical pronouncement of which we are all guilty "there are no masterpieces here." That phrase is however generally qualified by a ‘but’ and it must be said that Sticken does us a real service in uncovering these lesser known examples of Martin and Honegger’s inspirations (literally; Martin was inspired by Dinu Lipatti in the Preludes and by Segovia in Guitare, Honegger by Bach in his tribute piece). The recordings were made in radio studios, I’m assuming for broadcast. Whether they were or not the piano sound is rather hard and there’s a distinct lack of bloom and sympathetic acoustic. Good for clarity, not so good for warmth. Which isn’t entirely inappropriate because some of these short pieces – some of Honegger’s last all of 24 seconds – do have a brittle whimsy about them: but not all.

Martin’s Huit Préludes pour le piano date from 1948. They open sternly with a Grave full of space and questing runs, embrace a quizzically insistent Allegretto with a rather hypnotic drive and expand to the insect like scamper in the unusual Vivace. This is a delicious piece of naughtiness. The Andantino grazioso’s more elliptical cast would have been well suited to Lipatti’s penetrating sense of depth, though once again Martin ensures that there’s a real sense of motion and movement; this is the spirit that animates the whole cycle. But it’s the penultimate Lento for which Martin reserves the greatest weight, a six and a half minute span of rather unsettled writing reaching a peak of abstract tension. All this is swept away by the driving high spirits of the Vivace finale. Guitare was written in 1933 and sent to Segovia. I remember reading the guitarist’s autobiography and laughing at his description of ‘My Shelf of Forgotten Music’, a presumably huge slush pile full of the discarded votive offerings of two or three generations of composers. Well, Martin’s Guitare is doubtless there because Segovia never even acknowledged receipt and the composer very sensibly and practically arranged it for piano. One can hear the Iberian influence and also the chordal/single note dichotomy that Martin explores all too well and is duly present in the arrangement. It’s a four-movement work, about eight and a half minutes long in this performance with the expected indications of Prelude, Air, Pleinte and Comme une gigue. It’s variously plaintive and full of fresh air effectiveness. He returns to the Spanishry forty years later in the Fantasie sur des rhythms flamenco, dance rhythms of brio in the Rhumba but more engagingly cultivating notable treble sonorities in the Soleares third movement.

Honegger’s contribution here is much slimmer. The Bach tribute was written in 1932, using the familiar BACH motif and spicing it with some modernistic colour. He manages to evoke Bach without really letting us in on the act – the harmonic sophistication is splendidly achieved. It was part of his contribution to a musical supplement of a music journal – Malipiero, Poulenc, Roussel and Casella also contributed. Le Cahier romand consists of five slivers of pieces, each dedicated to a friend. They all involve technical dexterities and compositional enthusiasms – the rich contrapuntalism of No. 3 and most startling of all the pungent rhythmic syncopations of No. 4 Rythmé (aptly titled). Sept pièces brèves, written slightly earlier, is cut from the same kind of cloth. Concise, insistent with a cosmopolitan pastoralism fully furnished with harmonic spice these pieces are a fine way to while away seven unurgent minutes. Try the puckish fourth, the glinting insistence of the second (Vif) or the concentration of the second slow movement, No. 5, or the ebullient violence of the concluding No. 7.

Though they may represent only a small, relatively insignificant component of Martin and Honegger’s creative work these slight pieces are representative of much of their aims and compositional methodology. They may not often demand to be played – but they are valuable to know.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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