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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Le Raid Merveilleux - Ballet Mécanique H.159 (1927) [16:48]
La Revue de Cuisine - Ballet pour six instruments H.161 (1927) [17:59]
On tourne! - Ballet in one act H.163 (1927) [29:57]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Hogwood
rec. Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, 15-17 August 2003, 7 Feb 2004. DDD

SUPRAPHON SU3749-2 031 [64:59]

Some three years ago Christopher Hogwood was the conductor for an Arte Nova disc of piano and orchestra pieces from the 1930s. This saw him branching away from the ancient music world and seeking a broader horizon. The disc included a very good Martinu Toccata e Due Canzoni. Since then he has recorded the First Violin Concerto for Supraphon and now comes this selection of ballet/jazz pieces - two for ensemble and one for full orchestra. All date from 1927; five years before Martinů’s move to Paris.

Le Raid is concerned with the tragic failure of two French aviators, Charles Nungesser and François Coli, to fly across the Atlantic on 8 May 1927. Two weeks after the loss of the two fliers Charles Lindbergh succeeded where they had failed. Aviation references appear throughout the work's five movements. In the final segment, La Mer, the Morse code ‘SOS’ figure rings out on the piano rather like the homing signal in Barber's Second Symphony. The score is nowhere near as dry as you might fear and the jazz influence is virtually undetectable. It sounds more like a mood-score for a film. The outer movements Un Oiseau and La Mer as well as Les Cartes (a gentle canon) are humane and quite beautiful with the mature Martinů personality is very much to the fore in La Mer.

In Le Raid Merveilleux the ensemble is Bohumil Kotmel and František Havlin (violins), Jaroslav Pondeliček and Ivan Paznour (violas), František Host (cello), Tomáš Kopáček, Ivan Doksanský (clarinets), František Herman (bassoon), Zdeněk Šedivý (trumpet), Pavel Polívka (percussion) and Daniel Wiesner (piano)

After not much of a pause we pitch into La Revue de Cuisine. This is for six instruments and is in ten movements. The music is sappy, dryish, jerky and even carries a folk flavour (try the polka Prologue). Stravinsky (Petrouchka meets Pulcinella in chamber orchestration) is clearly an influence. There is also a strutting absurdist element akin to the Shostakovich First Piano Concerto. The Duel movement (tr. 11) is marked 'Tempo di Charleston' and that dance is prominent at 1.10 onwards. ‘Oompah’ and other popular dance elements flit to and fro through these pages. Le Fin du Drame (tr. 15) vivaciously recaps the dances of the previous movements.

This is the first recording of the complete ballet of La Revue. Movements from it were famously included on a 1960s Supraphon LP later reissued on CD.

The grouping for La Revue is Bohumil Kotmel (violin), František Host (cello), Tomáš Kopáček (clarinet), František Herman (bassoon), Jaroslav Halíř (trumpet) and Daniel Wiesner (piano).

After the stripped-down and spare textures of the first two ballets, En Tourne introduces the uproar of the full orchestra in Martinů-typical full flow. There are eight movements with some amazing trumpet playing in the tumult of the first movement. This is the CD premiere recording of the ballet On tourne! Daniel Wiesner is the busily engaged pianist.

The recorded image across all three works is very close; closer than a listener would be in the front seats.

This disc was sponsored by the Bohuslav Martinu Foundation in Prague:
Indispensable to Martinů lovers - especially those fond of the earlier works. This is rare material done idiomatically and with an authentic zest.

Rob Barnett

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