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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Památník Lidicím (1943) [8.20]
Concertino for piano trio and strings (1933) [18.54]
Rhapsody-Concerto for viola and orchestra (1952) [19.23]
Concerto for piano trio and strings (1933) [24.10]
Trio Wanderer
Tabea Zimmermann (viola)
Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne
James Conlon
Recorded Studio Stolberger, Cologne, April 2003 (bulk) and September 2004 (Rhapsody Concerto)
CAPRICCIO SACD 71 053 [70.47]

Don’t pass by this disc if you’re a Martinů completist because it neatly couples the Concerto and Concertino for trio and orchestra. These are not negligible works, though they were both written in rapid succession in 1933. The former in particular is an especial rarity and I’ve only ever encountered a recording by the Göbel Trio.

Cast in four busy movements, it has that typical Martinů concerto grosso feel, and one that relaxes and releases some delightful solo and ensemble interplay. Try the legato violin over insouciant cello pizzicato in the first movement for example. The Andante opens with a long piano introduction and when the string instruments enter they collectively cultivate considerable drive accompanied by some melting harmonies in the orchestra. The Scherzo is the most forward-looking of the movements, active and virile, whilst the finale is a puckish jaunt of a Moderato.

It makes for canny listening to contrast this with the Concertino. Though better known it’s not necessarily an obviously superior work though there’s nothing in the Concerto quite to match the slinky fugato of the Moderato second movement or the active figuration of the Adagio. And whereas his solution in the finale of the Concerto was a puckish medium tempo one, in the Concertino he decided – correctly – to end with a lissom and driving Allegro, splendidly balanced for the instruments and played here with real verve.

The other two works are ones central to the Martinů discography. The Rhapsody-Concerto, one of his most open-hearted and immediately winning works - it also happens to be one of my favourites - is played by Tabea Zimmermann. Conlon leads Günter Wand’s old orchestra with considerable command and negotiates some of the trickier paragraphs of this deceptive work with success. Even so neither he nor Zimmermann quite matches the naturalness of expression evinced in the classic Mály/Smetáček Panton disc of 1979 or, more recently, the Pěruška/Kučera on Artesmon. Those who have the Josef Suk/Neumann on Supraphon should know that the Zimmermann/Conlon reading is tighter, fleeter and quicker all round. It means that there’s a very slightly disjunct turning of lyric corners but the benefits are those of the soloist’s warm and attractive tone and the fine, very clear recording. It’s a more than agreeable reading and comes near the top of the available competition.

Lidice is probably the best known of the quartet of works and rarely fails to make a powerful impression either on disc or in concert. Conlon directs a characteristically good performance though you’ll have to efface memories of the 1957 Ančerl. This isn’t to say that it’s at all poor, rather that it can’t hope to match that older recording’s immediacy and ominously ratcheted tensile drive; Ančerl really rasps and coils and he is the lodestar for this work, managing to instil and maintain optimum tension from the first to the last note.

But I don’t want to end on a less than wholehearted note. This is an excellently constructed and very useful addition to the discography. It’s also got the advantage of a first rate recording and there are some equally classy performances.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett

 

 



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