The Swiss composer Frank Martin travelled
widely throughout Europe, gaining a rich awareness of prevailing
musical styles, and these experiences had a strong influence
on his approach to composition. Maurice Ravel was probably the
contemporary figure with whom he felt the closest affinity,
and Bach the master for whom he had the greatest reverence.
gathered here makes a compelling combination. These three concertante
pieces each bring their own particular slant on the medium.
To a large extent this is because the performing resources required
are so different from one piece to the next. But in each case
Martin shows his mastery of the musical demands.
of these pieces is Danse de la peur, of 1936.
This is a single movement composition, for two pianos and small
orchestra. The dynamic range is wide, so too the range of tempi.
While the ensemble is described as a ‘small orchestra’, there
is no lack of variety, and the music certainly packs a punch.
The recorded sound is excellent, as it is in the other pieces.
The Concerto for seven wind instruments,
timpani, percussion and strings dates from 1949 and adopts the traditional
three-movement plan. There are plenty of different instrumental
colours and combinations, of course, and Martin exploits these
various options with both imagination and rhythmic freedom.
With seven solo wind instruments the choices of priority are
numerous; so much to that this becomes a most unconventional
concerto, a kind of concerto for orchestra minus the string
section. Be that as it may, the results are compelling, with
excellent opportunities shared around the ensemble.
There are three movements, each of some
seven minutes, on the conventional fast-slow-fast design. All
praise to the members of the Musikcollegium Winterthur, whose
performance is fresh, spontaneous, and virtuoso too.
On the face of it, the Violin Concerto
of 1951 is the most traditional of these three pieces, since
it has a three-movement plan and a more conventional relationship
between solo and ensemble. As the music evolves, so it becomes
evident that Martin has adapted these procedures in his own
way. For instance, the recapitulation of the first movement’s
principal themes comes not within that movement but later in
the work, as if to set the seal of unity on the whole conception.
Moreover, the third theme becomes the basis of the passacaglia
that lies at the heart of the second movement, while the second
theme is treated fugally in the development section that lies
at the heart of the finale. Does all this sound too clever by
half? If it does, do not be fooled; for the music sounds fresh
and spontaneous in every bar.
The Violin Concerto, in common with the
distinctive masterpieces associated with Martin’s genre, is
a particularly poetic work. It is appropriate therefore that
Michael Erxleben makes a compelling soloist, at once lyrical
and strong, as the score demands.