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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Piano Music

Fantasie et Toccata (1940) [16:26]
Trois Danses Tcheques (1926) [8:15]
Dumka (1941) [2:03]
Sonata No.1 (1954) [20:53]
Fenêtre sur le jardin (1938) [7:24]
Trois Esquisses (1927) [4:58]
Paul Kaspar (piano)
rec. Bavarian Radio, Munich, 2002
TUDOR 7054 [60:25]







Piano Music
Etudes and Polkas (1945): Book I [10:30]; Book II [9:09]; Book III [9:44]
Butterflies and Birds of Paradise (1920) [15:21]
Borová (VII Czech Dances) (1930) [12:14]
Paul Kaspar (piano)
rec. Bavarian Radio, Munich, 2002
TUDOR 7125 [57:13]

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These two CDs, available separately, are not quite hot off the press; theyíve been around for a few years but have been given another push by Tudor. Rightly so as Paul Kaspar proves an often perspicacious and technically adroit guide to still under explored-repertoire. That said the range of the pieces is wide Ė from the Sonata to the three Czech Dances and all stops in between - and accomplishment across the spectrum is not guaranteed. The ragtime and impressionist influences arenít always easy to evoke and not every pianist can command the full panoply of Martinůís influences.

Kaspar then is an assured and musical presence and has been finely and warmly recorded by the technicians of Bavarian Radio. Comparison however can find chinks in the armour, little moments that can lessen the immediacy of the impact of these vivacious, rhythmically incisive and often captivating pieces. I much enjoyed his Fantasie et Toccata, that serious minded, powerful 1940 work but must note that chordally he has to cede to Emil Leichner in his set of the complete solo piano works on Supraphon 11 1010-2, a three CD box. Comparison with this Lion of the Martinů piano discography is unavoidable and indeed necessary. Both he and Kaspar have, quite rightly, their own views on much of the repertoire; much indeed is complementary.

In the Czech Dances (Trois Danses Tchèques) for instance Kaspar is far more involved in the syncopated and jazzy elements and his lither traversal brings quixotic drama where Leichner feels things less pressingly; his Paris is still rather more bathed in impressionist hues than in dance bands. Try the Polka, the last of them and youíll find Kaspar really dares the tempo, whilst still acknowledging the rubato element embedded into it Ė nice Ragtime tints too, preferable to Leichner.

Regarding Fenêtre sur le jardin, that brief but intensely evocative four-movement set of 1938, I have to say I find Kaspar less convincing. He takes a bracing tempo for the first two and relaxes somewhat for the last two of the set. But he lacks Leichnerís lyricism and elegance and the intensely romantic compression that the Czech pianist brings to bear in the introduction of the Poco Andante. Next to him Kaspar does sound rather vertical and rushed

The Sonata often causes problems in performance. Kaspar takes a Leichner-like tempo here and itís really only in the finale that thereís any real divergence in tempo terms. But itís Leichner who characterises it with the greater perception and itís in his hands that the sonata takes on a more compelling and formidable shape.

The second disc presents the Etudes and Polkas of 1945, Butterflies and Birds of Paradise, an early work of 1920 and Borová, the Czech Dances of 1930. Itís fascinating to hear divergences between the essential Leichner and Kaspar. As before Kaspar is generally faster, and usually more overtly jazzy in respect of rhythm and syncopation. Thatís undoubtedly the case with the Etude in D and whatís equally undoubtedly the case is that Kasparís performance sounds corresponding less Czech. This is a question of those characteristic Martinů cadences and plangencies and of the powerfully evocative chordal depth Leichner invariably excavates. I tend to find Kaspar here less pawkily capricious than his competitor. In the Etude in C from Book II we find Leichner more bad tempered and correspondingly more exultant. He makes more sense of this oppositional syntax and the direction of the music. Kaspar inclines to a more sectional viewpoint, less successfully I feel.

Butterflies in flowers, that most gloriously silken of pieces, glitters in Leichnerís hands. Here there is true liquidity of phrasing and imagination and, good though he is, Kaspar has to cede ground. Kaspar is nice and jaunty in the first of the Czech Dances but maybe Ė just maybe (itís matter of taste) Ė heís just a touch bucolic next to Leichnerís defter sophistication.

There are other single issues devoted to the piano works and one could sift through them. Of the two under discussion I would turn to Leichner but there are certainly instances where Kasparís vivacity pays rich dividends and you wonít be disappointed by him. A mid way point may well be achieved by Giorgio Koukl, the Czech born and now Swiss resident composer and pianist. A complete set of the piano works is forthcoming from him on an international label. He sent me a studio burn of some pieces and I can say that, for instance, his Poco Adagio from Fenêtre sur le jardin strikes a fine and judicious balance between Kasparís dynamism and Leichnerís beauty of tone. His performances are anticipated with keen interest. Until then Ė and who knows, maybe even then - I would argue for Leichnerís complete set. But Kaspar has a lot to say in this repertoire and says it with force and conviction.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett


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