Thanks are due to Erik Entwistle
and Summit Records for this useful disc of Martinů piano
music, a recital that includes no less than ten CD premieres
and spans thirty years.
programmes the meatiest work, the Piano Sonata, as the penultimate
item - a brief Adagio, the composer’s last piano work, closes
the recital poignantly. Written for Rudolf Serkin, no less,
its improvisatory nature is hugely appealing, not least because
of Martinů’s skilful background organisation. This is very
active music, very exciting, almost virtuoso towards the end.
Here, as always, Entwistle’s reading is a model of its kind.
The aura of stasis that pervades the ‘Moderato (poco andante)’,
replete with Janáček-like tremolandi at its climax makes
for telling contrast, while the finale allows for a near ecstatic
Entwistle, a member
of Harvard’s Music Faculty, is a Czech music specialist; his
dissertation was entitled, ‘Martinů in Paris:
A Synthesis of Musical Styles and Symbols’. His ease with the
idiom is clear in every note he plays, and his evident enthusiasm
for this repertoire results in even the smallest miniature being
enlivened from within. The only small fly in the ointment is
the recording quality – ideally a little more depth to the sound-image
would have been ideal.
The disc itself begins with the playful three-movement
Suite Vánoce (‘Christmas’), with its ever-so-sweet yet
perfectly constructed outer movements (entitled ‘The Sled’ and
‘Christmas Carol’ respectively) and its gorgeous central Lullaby;
try around 0’40, when treble and bass are separated for an example
of Martinů’s textural mastery. From the same year, the
Trois Esquisses (which remained unpublished until 1965)
is a set of three miniatures each invoking a different popular
style: Blues, Tango and Charleston. Entwistle in particular seems to enjoy the
‘cute’ jazz influence of the Blues and the near honky-tonk finale,
while injecting a certain amount of sleaze into the more diffuse
The Quatre Mouvements
are in Martinů’s Czech folk style. Each is beautifully
constructed. The first is strangely clumsy, as if a little tipsy,
the second playfully humorous, the finale a juxtaposition of
polka and waltz. It is the third movement (Adagio) that is the
emotional heart of the work, though, with its ominous bass tremolandi
and its heart-rending chords. Superb, and Entwistle pulls no
Avec un doigt (cheeky end!) and To Božánek and Sonička
reveal Martinů’s ease of invention with the simple,
while Lístek do památniku (‘Album leaf’) and the first
two Dumkas are more mature works. Of more than passing
interest is the excerpt from the opera Julietta whose
subject of ill-fated romance took on a personal slant with the
composer’s relationship with Kaprálová. Rudolf Firkušný was
present at the work’s premiere and requested an arrangement
of this particular part of Act 2 Scene 3. Czech-Impressionist
yet devoid of any superfluous doodling, this is touching in
the extreme. And, as the booklet notes point out, longing is
again the theme for the cycle Fenêtre sur le jardin,
composed in the village of Vieux-Moulin, north of Paris, where
the composer awaited news of his beloved Kaprálová’s efforts
to return to Paris from Moravia. Tinges of longing do indeed
mark the first movement (including some memorable ‘blue’ notes),
the pentatonicism of the second movement is moving, while the
suddenly acidic finale acts to dispel the shadows.
The hesitant, shadowy nature of the Mazurka can
be explained when one realises it was the first work he completed
in the USA - it is written in memory of the pianist Paderewski.
Yet the shaft of light at the end surely symbolises hope …
The third Dumka is a birthday present for Martinů’s
friend Frantisek Rybka (‘Happy Birthday to You’ is surely embedded
therein, but it is the beautiful close that lingers in the memory.
The memorably entitled Merry Christmas 1941 to Hope Castagnola
is the epitome of optimism with its playful staccati. The sudden
melancholy at 1’30 just means you hear the opening material
as happier the second time round!
The Fifth Day of the Fifth Moon, after a poem by Su Tung Po, makes perhaps
predictable but no less magical for that use of the pentatonic
scale. This is a real gem of a piece in its delicacy. Its companion
piece (Les bouquinistes du quai Malaquiais) is perfect
in its controlled ebullience. Finally two miniatures require
our attention, the gentle Barcarolle (miraculously played
by Entwistle) and the brief, happy Improvisation.
There is a huge amount to discover here, and I do encourage
you to seek out this delightful disc.