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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)

Deux chansons (1932) [7:19]
Trois mélodies (1930)* [0:53]
Vocalise-Etude (1930)* [1:10]
Dvĕ balady [Two Ballads to Folk Texts] (1932)* [6:31]
Čtyři písnĕ [Four Songs to Folk Texts] (1940) [5:39]

Polka for piano from the ballet Špalíček (1932) [2:13]
Novy Špalíček [New Anthology] (1942) [10:56]

Waltz for piano from the ballet Špalíček (1932) [6:05]
Three Christmas Songs (1929)* [2:46]
Four Children’s Songs and Nursery Rhymes* [1:17]
Koleda milstoná [Love Carol to a Folk Text] (1937) [0:53]
Přání mamince [A Wish for a Mother]* [1:16]

Songs from the Hry o Marii [The Miracles of Mary] (1934) [6:42]
Olga Černá (mezzo-soprano)
Jitka Čechová (piano)

rec. Studio Minor, Trhový Štĕpánov, Czech Republic, 11-12th and 15-16th January 2003
*World première recordings.
NAXOS 8.557494 [53:40]

Any CD which presents world première recordings from Martinů’s prodigious output can do little wrong in my book, and any Martinů fan will want to add this disc to their collection. It is in no way a completist’s mishmash of oddities, and contains much which will have you wondering why such gems have been ignored until today.

As a recital programme this is little short of perfect, with a great deal of variety and range. There are some choice piano solos to give the singer a rest, and almost the full gamut of Martinů’s modes – lacking only the deepest profundities we find in some of his chamber or orchestral work. Texts are split between French and Czech, and the 1930s songs do have a little of the Poulenc/Satie flavour to them. Martinů’s jazz style crops up in Saltimbanques (‘Acrobats’ from Trois mélodies) and the Vocalise-Etude, and weightier drama (Dvĕ balady) is balanced against lighter, sometimes playful lyricism (Čtyři písnĕ).

I have one minor beef with the labelling. In my opinion it is always better to put, for instance: From: Trois mélodies (1930) – Saltimbanques (or a variant of same) rather than just announcing the set as if it were complete and making the listener hunt in the text to find out why there is only one song – at first I thought it might be some kind of Dadaist joke, which would be a first for Martinů! Talking of jokes, I’m probably displaying my ignorance but there is something strange going on with tracks 21 and 22 (numbers two and three from Three Christmas Songs), which patently have nothing whatever to do with Christmas.

There is a decent helping of Martinů’s later style in Novy Špalíček, and the recital is satisfyingly completed with Sestra Paskalina from The Miracles of Mary, a passionate and heartfelt prayer in extremis.

Olga Černá has an attractive, slightly silvery coloured voice, which fortunately lacks the doleful heaviness which makes some mezzos less than appealing at length. There are one or two glottal breaks here and there, but this is a recording which will stand much repetition. A fairly trivial drawback is the slightly boxy piano sound, which shows up most during the solo works. I suspect this might be technicians struggling against too small an acoustic, although the reverb has a natural generosity which is entirely suited to the repertoire. This is the only Naxos budget trade-off: a more expensive venue (or piano) might have tipped the balance here (if the sound engineers among you will excuse my pun). Unhesitatingly recommended.

Dominy Clements

see also review by Rob Barnett



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