The Swiss composer
Frank Martin toyed with serialism and counted Stockhausen amongst
his pupils but his music ultimately remained tonal. Indeed the
very opening of his solitary Cello Concerto could be mistaken
by the unwary for Vaughan Williams, a long-breathed rhapsodic,
folksy solo marked Lento which immediately exposes the
cellist’s credentials. Thereafter Martin’s treatment of the
material is highly personal and rather free in form within a
conventional three-movement structure. This is no virtuoso display
piece – various other instruments are important including the
alto saxophone, celesta, harp and piano. At the heart of the
opening movement the saxophone hints at jazz rhythms which dominate
the finale before a return to the initial material and a slightly
ambiguous conclusion. In between comes an Adagietto which
is profound and often dark-toned. Written at the request of
Pierre Fournier and dedicated to Paul Sacher, this work strikes
me as one of the finest cello concertos of the 20th
century. Seldom recorded so far, it seems to be awaiting the
recognition that is due and may come from this superb rendition
by Quirine Viersen. Her playing is intense, highly-controlled
and yet sensitive to the passionate undercurrents in the music.
The supporting musicians under Kenneth Montgomery are also very
If the Cello Concerto
is the raison d’être for this disc, the fillers are also
welcome. The Trois Danses for oboe and harp are lighter
in feeling and hardly sound like the work of an octogenarian.
The soloists are accompanied by a string quintet and string
orchestra in a kind of mini-double concerto. The work was written
for Heinz and Ursula Holliger and the three dances are Seguiryia,
Soledad and Rumba. Henk Swinnen and Kerstin Scholten
prove to be an excellent team of soloists.
Martin wrote six
Ballades for solo instruments plus orchestra. The Ballade
for cello is a substantial work which often presages the
moods of the concerto. If anything, it is an even more personal
utterance and Quirine Viersen is again equal to its challenges.
for strings was originally written for organ in 1944. Martin
made two arrangements – the version performed here for strings
and one for full orchestra. The liner errs in giving the date
of this arrangement as 1962 - although it is correct in the
booklet - and the subtitle “original version for organ” might
appear to suggest that is what will be heard. The work is based
on a repetitive theme in bass and variations in the upper voices.
It is the least immediately approachable of the works on the
disc and I was left slightly regretful that the original was
not included instead - it was Martin’s only work for the instrument.
There is here a further slight glitch in the documentation which
states “A bass theme eight bars long in ? time….” – this was
presumably an oversight.
The recorded sound
is “state-of-the-art” with excellent balances and natural perspectives.
Leaving aside the small points mentioned above (and a “chello”
on the spine of the case), the documentation is informative
and provides a useful conspectus of Martin’s life.
Frank Martin’s cello
concerto is a formidable work and here receives very powerful
advocacy – highly recommended.