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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Complete Piano Music 1
Huit préludes H.181 [17:37]
Fenętre sur le jardin H.270 [8:03]
Fables H.138 [7:12]
Trois esquisses H.160 [5:42]
Le Noël H.167 [5:30]
Esquisses de Danses H.220 [10:26]
Foxtrot H.126 [2:40]
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
rec. RSI Lugano, Switzerland, 19 April, 15 August 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557914 [57:10]

The title of this disc promises a complete series of Martinů’s piano music. If so, it will be the first for, although Emil Leichner’s 3-CD set on Supraphon (SU36562) claims to be “complete”, it clearly is not, excluding three of the pieces listed above: Fables, Le Noël and Foxtrot. The documentation here suggests that there are about eighty works to be covered, presumably counting each individual piece within the various series as a “work”. At a guess – and it is a pity Naxos doesn’t provide this information – the series will probably run to four CDs. My only previous experience of the genre comes from a 1988 RCA disc (RD87987) on which Rudolf Firkušný, who knew the composer well, played the 1954 Piano Sonata and various other works, none of which feature here. That was re-issued in 2003 alongside the Piano Concertos Nos. 2-4 and is well-worth acquiring (see review).
The present disc focuses on miniatures from the period 1920-1938, most of which the composer spent in Paris. There is some influence from American jazz but French influences are greater here and Martinů’s characteristic style was not yet fully developed in the earlier works.
The opening eight preludes were written in 1929 and by a curious coincidence Messiaen also wrote eight preludes in the same year. Those were much influenced by Debussy and Martinů’s preludes are more challenging to the pianist and the ear. They were dedicated to Charlotte Quennehen who became his wife two year later.
The pastoral Fenętre sur le jardin dates from 1938, is in four short movements and more immediately recognisable as by Martinů. Written whilst staying in a cottage, the view from the window was of a garden of roses but life was about to change for Martinů; on Firkušný’s advice he soon left for the USA via Portugal.
Fables is a series of five very brief, innocent sounding works based on animal themes.  Dating from 1923, perhaps they were written with children in mind. Equally brief but of more interest are the Esquisses (sketches), marked Tempo di Blues, di Tango and di Charleston respectively. The latter is a delightful and striking romp lasting 1:18. Le Noël was written in the same year (1927) and begins with The Sledge, has a central lullaby and a lively carol to finish.

The five Esquisses de Danses (dance sketches) date from 1932 and rank alongside Fenętre sur le jardin as the most notable pieces on the disc. The second and fourth sketches are reflective and in relatively slow tempi, the latter a waltz. The others have allegro markings and the last is particularly spirited.
The Foxtrot which closes the programme is one of two written in 1920. It is surprising we aren’t given the other one here for comparison but it makes for a memorable conclusion. Played blind, there should definitely be a prize to anyone who can guess the composer here.
Pianist Giorgio Koukl originally hails from Prague but left in the troubles of 1968 and is now based in Switzerland. He first came across Martinů’s music in a masterclass given by Rudolf Firkušný. Technically fine, he plays with great rhythmic control and does not seek to impose himself on the music. Assuming he will be our guide through the rest of the series, I have little doubt he will prove a reliable one. He is aided by excellent recorded sound and the issue is well-documented.
Another worthy projected series is up-and-running from Naxos – they should certainly be giving this one high priority. This is attractive music with considerable merits and experience of Firkušný’s marvellous record suggests that there are even better things to come.
Patrick C Waller

Martinů piano solo selections – Reviews on MusicWeb International
Eleonora Bekova (Chandos 9655) - review by Rob Barnett
Erik Entwistle (Summit 407) - reviews by Rob Barnett and Colin Clarke
Rudolf Firkušný (BMG 886822) - review by Rob Barnett
Paul Kaspar (Tudor 7054 & 7125) - review by Jonathan Woolf
Radoslav Kvapil (Regis 1222) - review by Rob Barnett
František Maly (Panton 8114262) - review by Rob Barnett


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