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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
The Six Symphonies

Symphony No. 1 (1942) [34:41]
Symphony No. 5 (1946) [29:23]
Symphony No. 2 (1943) [23:28]
Symphony No. 6 (Fantaisies symphoniques) (1953) [27:52]
Symphony No. 3 (1944) [26:53]
Symphony No. 4 (1945) [32:55]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
rec. Caird Hall, Dundee 17, 19 April 1990 (Symphonies Nos. 1, 5); SNO Centre, Glasgow 20-21 August 1990 (Nos. 2, 6) and 6-7 September 1989 (Nos. 3, 4)
Originally separately issued as Chandos CHAN 8917 (3 4); CHAN 8916 (2 6); CHAN 8915 (1 5);
CHANDOS CLASSICS CHAN 10316X [3 CDs: 64:11 + 51:30 + 60:00]

This cycle has been around as a set and individually since 1991.

The sound is from Chandos's best vintage and escapes the clouded congestion of some other Chandos issues from the period 1988-1992. Stereo separation imparts an open and uncongested spatial image. There is no suggestion of the over-warm fog that afflicts some of the Bĕlohlávek symphonies on the same label. The orchestral piano is nicely rendered in the finale of No. 4 neither too discreet nor with exaggerated presence.

In the finale of the exuberant and plangently lyrical Fourth the gloriously warbling horns at triple forte are something of a touchstone well up to the best and comparable with similar moments in Nielsen 5 and the Boult-conducted Moeran symphony LP on Lyrita. The mental torment piled high by Martinů in the second movement of the Third Symphony (5:01) is extremely well put across by Thomson.

These stand up extremely well to broadly contemporaneous competition from Järvi on Bis [review]. Järvi piles on the tension in works such as the Third Symphony from the very start. Thomson builds tension steadily but has plenty of romping energy for Martinů’s many scherzos and allegros. Certainly if you prefer a more febrile approach captured in naturalistic sound then you go for Järvi. Thomson can seem broader although examination of timings shows this has little to do with speed; quite often Thomson is actually quicker than Järvi. Thomson gives out the sense of a conductor who has an eye to the longer term and he has the advantage of Chandos's glamorous and virile sound-picture. Listen for example to the grunt of brass and percussion at 3:49 and 4:51 in the first movement of No. 3. It could hardly be more gripping.

The three CDs come in a slightly oversized wallet-style card box. There's a really good essay by Jan Smaczny conflated from his notes for the separate Chandos releases.

The competition is direct with Jarvi on Bis. The price of each would be about the same. You could opt for the Naxos/Ukraine/Fagen series but, much as it saddens me to say so, these under-energised readings are not really in the running. Fagen’s Fourth is flaccidly earth-bound; a terrible missed opportunity. Neumann and the Czech Phil on Supraphon in late analogue is excellent but that box is still at full price. Part cycles include the warmly recorded First, Fourth and Sixth of Belohlavek on Chandos - the sound is nowhere near as pellucid as that for Thomson. In the Fourth Symphony stakes the Apex CD of the Fourth Symphony (Czech Phil/Martin Turnovsky) in 1960s sound, continues to wipe the floor with all comers; do not miss it [review].

Rob Barnett



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