This disc of orchestral
music by the Czech twentieth-century composer Bohuslav Martinů
presents recordings made over a period of almost thirty years
between 1953 and 1980. Each work was recorded as part of the
Louisville Orchestra’s vitally important ‘First Edition’ label,
of which many recordings are now being reissued in re-mastered
versions by the Santa Fe Music Group under the label of ‘First
Of the four works
here, three are world première recordings and two of those were
commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra themselves (Intermezzo
and Estampes). As a composer in exile for much of his
career, Martinů lived in the USA from 1941 until 1957 and
each of these works is from this period of his life. His mature
style was well established before this move, which followed
a substantial period in Paris. The varied location of Martinů
throughout his formative years as a composer can be sensed through
the wide array of influences to be heard in his music, the most
noticeable of these being the element of Czech folk music. Indeed,
Martinů’s music can be a number of different things within
a short space of time, with an eastern European flavour, or
an impressionistic character being overtaken by a rich American
quality, then perhaps becoming something more akin to Stravinsky.
It is always overtly romantic and often extremely lyrical. It
never creeps over the boundary into atonality.
Musically this disc
represents some of Martinů’s highest quality works, but
the two later works (Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra
and Estampes) are particularly worthy of note, especially
with the committed performance of Marion Gibson in the concerto.
As the most substantial work, the Symphony No. 5 is a
tribute to the Czech Philharmonic, in which Martinů was
a violinist (1913-1923). It represents the largest range of
influences, being a transitory work towards his most developed
later period. It is not necessarily as structurally sound as
the other works on this disc with one or two seemingly clumsy
moments in connecting large sections together within movements.
The orchestration throughout the disc is constantly inventive,
lively and often sumptuous, with an unusually effective use
of the piano within the texture.
are particularly fine, supported by a wonderfully warm recorded
sound that has been expertly re-mastered. Conductors Robert
Whitney and Sidney Harth, extract captivating and passionate
performances, every work standing out as exceptional, with presumably
little editing involved.
The amazing detail
and careful preparation and presentation of the accompanying
booklet demonstrate just how seriously these recordings are
regarded; everything from the exact dates of performances to
the original LP and matrix numbers, along with rare programme
notes, make this a useful document. As a whole this disc is
a fabulous package and it is to be hoped is representative of
the rest of this invaluable series.