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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Symphony No. 5  (1946) [23:45]
Intermezzo (1950) [9:03]
Oboe Concerto (1955) [15:51]
Estampes (1958) [17:15]
Marion Gibson (oboe)
Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney; Sidney Harth (concerto)
rec. Louisville, Kentucky, 26 March 1953, Columbia Auditorium (Intermezzo); April 28 1959; Macauley Theater, Louisville, Kentucky (Estampes); 18 February 1966 (Symphony No. 5); 15 January 1980, (Oboe Concerto). ADD


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 Edition Music’.

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.

The performances 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.

Adam Binks


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