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