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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Memorial to Lidice (Památník Lidicim) (1943) [8:20]
Concertino for Piano Trio and Orchestra (1933) [18:54]
Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1952) [19:23]
Concerto for Piano Trio and Orchestra (1933) [24:10]
Tabea Zimmerman (viola)
Wanderer Trio (Vincent Coq (piano); Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabedian (violin); Raphaël Pidoux (cello))
Gürzenich Orchestra/James Conlon
rec. Studio Stolberger Straße, Köln, 23-26 Apr 2003; 6-7 Sept 2004 (Rhapsody). DDD. Hybrid SACD
Reviewed using conventional CD player
CAPRICCIO CC 71 053 [70:27]

Conlon returns to Martinů after inspired and consistent work for Zemlinsky through a series of EMI Classics CDs - those Zemlinskys really should be reissued in a box. He has also done invaluable work for Schulhoff and Hartmann on Capriccio. I say return to Martinů because he recorded two valuable Erato CDs with French forces in the 1980s though the achievement was slightly undermined by a warmly cocooned sound-image. They’re still available as a twofer on Warner Ultima 3984 24238 2 and you can read a review of one of the two discs issued separately on Apex .

The sound for the Lidice Memorial has a powerful and suave bass response much in evidence and a singing gleam from the violins. I had never noticed the harmonium emulations until now. Martinů seems to have looked to Barber’s Adagio as a mood-model - he would certainly have heard it by 1943. Also fascinating are the pre-echoes of Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antartica. The fateful and brassy Beethovenian anger at 7:10 is also well caught reminding me of his Fifth Symphony which also carries echoes of Beethoven.

The Concertino for piano trio and string orchestra is in four fleeting movements. The first and the last are pell-mell with the piano set back more than I had expected. There is a touch of Hungarian mania about the violin solos. The part quirky, part endearing Moderato recalls Tippett in the Concerto for Double String Orchestra and this returns in the finale. In the oppressive Adagio finale a peppery folk-style enters the proceedings as well as a tragic and sometimes dissonant seriousness you might not be ready for after the busy first movement.

There is a competing Martinů Centaur CD of the Concertino on CRC 2415 with the two Piano Trios and the Duo No. 2 for violin and cello. The Trio Tulsa are joined by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Freeman. The performances are admirable and I have already praised them (review) but the disc mixes chamber and orchestra and is not as generous as the all-orchestral Capriccio SACD.

The composer said of the much-recorded Rhapsody-Concerto (for viola and orchestra) that it represented a return to phantasy after infatuations with geometry. Certainly you can hear geometry in the Concerto and the Concertino although neither is devoid of emotional expression. The Rhapsody-Concerto is a piercingly lyrical late work deeply imbued with a nostalgia for the Old Country from which he was, to all intents and purposes, exiled. It is fitting that the piece ends with a sigh.

The Rhapsody-Concerto has been recorded before. The violists include Lubomir Maly on Panton 81 1204-2 from 1979; Rivka Golani on Conifer CDCF 2100 in 1987, Nobuko Imai on Bis in 1990 on BIS CD 501 and in 1987 by Josef Suk on Supraphon 11 1969-2 011. There are probably others too. The Maly remains a force to be reckoned with if only you could track it down but the sound is nowhere near as transparent as is achieved by the Capriccio team.

Martinů wrote both a Concerto and a Concertino for piano trio and both date from 1933. The Concerto for Piano Trio may well be receiving its recorded premiere here. The first movement launches with lunging playing from the orchestral strings. At first I suspected a reversion to Martinů’s heartless Parisian style but there is an emotional weight - that poignant yearning carried by the solo violin as for example at 1:41 and at 4:00 (the latter reminiscent of Villa-Lobos) in the first movement. The impressively serious Andante is heavy with tragic substance and shows that the Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and timpani (1938) did not spring from nowhere. The Scherzo is rhythmically incisive carrying the exhilarating imprint of Bach and this is followed by a busily patterned Moderato. The Concerto should, on the strength of the Andante alone, be heard more often.

The perspective of soloists as against the orchestral body is very pleasingly contrived. The documentation by Norbert Hornig is of similar quality.

In any event this is the first time all four of these works have been harnessed on disc and you get a Lidice of searing intensity - more telling even than Ančerl’s classic and a striking discovery in the shape of the Piano Trio Concerto. Rare and not so rare Martinů, extremely well played and recorded. Martinů enthusiasts should go for this one as of course should piano trio members on the lookout for substantial additions to the repertoire.

Rob Barnett


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