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Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
The Complete Piano Music

Eight Préludes (1948) [22.54]
Esquisse (1965) [3.52]
Clair de lune (1952) [1.46]
Etude rythmique (1965) [2.10]
Guitare (1933) [8.22]
Fantasie sur des rythmes flamenco (1973) [13.21]
Ouverture et foxtrot for two pianos (1924) [9.02]
Pavane couleur de temps for four hands (1920) [5.40]
Au clair de la lune for four hands (1955) [2.08]
Deux Pièces faciles for two pianos (1937) [2.25]
Etudes pour deux pianos (1957) [19.10]
Julie Adam (piano)
Christine Logan (piano) – two piano and four hands
rec. Eugene Goossens Hall of ABC’s Ultimo Centre, August-November 2003
ABC CLASSICS 476 2601 [2 CDs 55.49 + 38.23]

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Though he wrote two piano concertos and a ballade for piano and orchestra – not to mention numerous chamber works in which the piano features prominently – Martin wrote very little for solo piano. Whether this is a puzzle or not, the fact remains that Martin was a fine pianist in his own right and his own recording of the Eight Préludes can currently be found on Jecklin – highly recommended. The Préludes were inspired by Martin’s friendship with – and admiration for – Dinu Lipatti and it’s a feature of this set from ABC of the complete solo (and two piano/four hand) piano works that so many were composed for specific people or for particular occasions, such as competitions. That the nature of some may have been pièces d’occasion should not, however, lessen their intrinsic interest.

The Préludes open sternly with a Grave full of space and questing runs, embrace a quizzically insistent Allegretto with a rather hypnotic drive and expand to the insect like scamper in the unusual Vivace. This is a delicious piece of naughtiness. The Andantino grazioso’s more elliptical cast would have been well suited to Lipatti’s penetrating sense of depth, though once again Martin ensures that there’s a real sense of motion and movement; this is the spirit that animates the whole cycle. But it’s the penultimate Lento for which Martin reserves the greatest weight, a six and a half minute span of rather unsettled writing reaching a peak of abstract tension. All this is swept away by the driving high spirits of the Vivace finale. Esquisse is a competition piece and explores timbral variety in its outer sections which contrast with the driving rhythm of the central panel. Clair de lune was Martin’s contribution to an album for the young; it’s a delightful, tiny sliver. The Etude rythmique dates from 1965 and it’s barely longer than Clair de lune, lasting just two minutes but it evokes complex rhythmic patterns in a very compressed and accessible canvas. Guitare was one of a number of pieces submitted to, and unacknowledged, by Segovia. It also exists in this version for piano as well as for orchestra. It’s difficult to see what Segovia disliked in it, though his slush pile was notoriously big; there are plenty of heady Spanish moments and rhythms, there’s a tight little aria antiche in the second movement air, and plenty of drive and knotty rhythm – as well a certain aloof inflexion – in the brief finale (Comme une gigue). The Fantasie sur des rythmes flamenco was designed to be danced to – in fact by Martin’s daughter Teresa – and was requested by Paul Badura-Skoda. Running through it, slower and faster, is the rumba – though its characteristic rhythms are never blatantly evoked – and the most excitement is concentrated in those moments when Martin unleashes a quasi-boogie assault of tremendous and unstoppable brio.

The Ouverture et foxtrot for two pianos returns us to 1924 and Martin’s time in Paris. The Overture is bluffly brittle and the Foxtrot more sinuous and insinuating with naughty little tricks along the way. Originally written for string quintet the Pavane couleur de temps survives this transformation to four hands remarkably well, not least in its spare simplicity and its archaic colours. Au clair de la lune – not to be confused with the slightly earlier children’s album piece – uses the nursery rhyme as its starting point and was written for Martin’s wife and daughter to play. It shows the playful, unbuttoned Martin. The 1957 Etudes pour deux pianos are, of course, tougher meat. Variously stubborn or capriciously heavy and tensely chromatic these are welcome additions to the discography. There’s Spanishry here as well, laced with a soupçon of jazz influence in the second etude, more of Martin’s much loved antique flecks in the third along with a truly romantic spirit. He finishes the set with a fourth etude of fugal determination, increasingly exultant.

Apart from the Préludes very little of Martin’s solo or duo piano music is in the catalogues, so this double set – though it’s an hour and a half in length – serves a valuable purpose. One can find the Préludes, Guitarre and Fantasie sur des rhythms flamenco played by Klaus Sticken on Thorofon CTH 2478 in a recording coupled with Honegger’s piano music – recommended despite the rather chilly studio acoustic. Here Julie Adam’s playing is fine, as equally is Christine Logan’s, the notes (by Julie Adam herself) are excellent, and only the recording may disappoint somewhat. Unusually for this venue it’s rather clangy and diffuse. Otherwise, a warm welcome.

Jonathan Woolf


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