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Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Petite Symphonie Concertante for harp, harpsichord, piano and double string orchestra (1944-5) [21:21]
Maria Triptychon for soprano, violin and orchestra (1968) [21:39]
Passacaille - version for large orchestra from Passacaille for organ [13:31]
Eva Hunziker (harp)
Germaine Vaucher-Clerc (harpsichord)
Doris Rossiaud (piano)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/composer
Irmgard Seefried (sop)
Wolfgang Schneiderhan (violin)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/composer
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/composer
rec. ADD mono - 3 Sept 1970, Geneva (symphonie; Maria); 30 May 1963 (Passacaille)
JECKLIN-DISCO JD 645-2 [56:51]

Here, on this invaluable disc, are three composer-conducted performances. All are from live concerts freed of the emotional constipation of the studio. These are mono recordings - surprising given the 1970 Radio Suisse Romande provenance of the Symphonie and the Triptychon. It is perhaps understandable in the case of the Berlin 1963 Passacaille.

There is no shortage of recordings of the Petite Symphonie. My reference is the LPO/Bamert on Chandos. The Jecklin version is rather treble-blunted by comparison. While perfectly respectable this is not the sort of top-flight sound you may have heard from BBC Radio 3 transcriptions of the same era. The intensity of atmosphere is however incomparable. The work emerges as more likeable and emotionally colourful than in any version I have heard previously. The sense of profound depths, dark reefs and the sort of chasmal fear eloquent in Martinů's Concerto for Piano, Strings and Timpani is almost tangible; it was written in 1944. There is hardly a cough - there are some in the second movement, around 5.50. This is music that proclaims integrity but has no surface glamour - a Protestant eloquence.

Maria Triptychon is a work of almost a quarter century later. There is an Ave Maria, a Magnificat and a Stabat Mater. The Magnificat came first - written for Schneiderhan and Seefried. It was premiered by them in Lucerne in 1968 with Haitink conducting. The composer realised the work was too short and then composed the flanking Ave Maria and Stabat Mater. Martin's language has not changed. His integrity and sincere engagement is never in doubt. If you enjoy the works of Alan Rawsthorne or Peter Racine Fricker then I am sure you will appreciate this powerful and at time beautiful and devout piece. The Stabat Mater's unremitting stabbing pain across seven minutes is well captured by Seefried's mezzoish soprano voice and Schneiderhan's classically pure tone. The Triptychon is a work of unwavering conviction - surely one of Martin's finest works alongside In terra Pax and the Requiem.

The Passacaille is an arrangement of a piece first written for organ solo in 1944. In 1952 Martin made an arrangement for string orchestra for Karl Münchinger. Ten years later he made this version for full orchestra and the present recording is of the composer-conducted Berlin premiere. Once again there is no surface dazzle; that is not Martin's way. The music has a grandeur of concentration and again that word 'integrity' - Martin discovered his own radiance in integrity. This work acts as an orchestral epitome of his life's message blended with a Bach-like spirit. There are a few transient moments of distortion but nothing to put off the earnest seeker after Martin's Truth.

The Triptychon poems are printed in the booklet in the full German text with English and French translation.

The notes tend towards technicality although including some biographical background and are by the composer.

The whole product breathes authenticity and authority in putting across Martin's sincere devotion to his Truth. The recordings present incomparable testimony direct from the composer at the age of eighty and seventy three. I wonder whether these performances would have had such tense and grave poise had they been recorded when he was forty or fifty? 

Absolutely essential for all Martin devotees.

Rob Barnett

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