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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1880-1959)
Complete Piano Music 1

8 Preludes, H181 [17:37]; Window on the Garden, H270 [8:03]; Fables, H138 [7:12]; Three Sketches H160 [5:42]; Christmas H167 [5:30]; Dance Sketches H220 [10:26]; Foxtrot H126 [2:40]
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
rec. RSI Lugano, Switzerland, 19 April, 15 August 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557914 [57:10]


If, like me, you adore Martinů’s music you will love this disc, the first of Naxos’s projected complete survey of his music for piano. This comprises around eighty of his total of over four hundred works. Martinů’s highly individual and easily identifiable style is evident in every piece, all but one written during his time in Paris, where he studied with Albert Roussel. However, his writing for solo piano is considerably less well known than his orchestral and chamber works, his symphonies, concertos and quartets having found firm places in the repertoire in the last twenty years. It is to be hoped that this series will help to place these works where they should be: along with the piano music of his contemporaries such as Szymanowski, Shostakovich and Bartůk whose outputs in that genre are already well known and well loved.
 
The disc begins with his eight preludes of 1929 and immediately Martinů’s recognisable signature is evident as is his fondness for the jazz idiom, but with a central European perspective. This is something other Czech composers like Schulhoff enjoyed exploring and this combination of jazz rhythms and Czech folk-like tunes makes the music very appealing and accessible. “Window on the Garden” was written in 1938 at a small cottage in Vieux Moulin, a small window of which looked out into the garden planted with roses given to Martinů’s wife Charlotte by artist friend Jan Zrzavż. They are charming miniatures, concise, economic but complete in themselves and full of invention.
 
†“Fables” comprises five pieces dating from 1923 and using titles that suggest animals that might appear in such stories rather than any actual folk tales. They have a charming almost naÔve quality about them. The “Three Sketches” and “Le NoŽl”, though both written in 1927, couldn’t be more dissimilar, “Le NoŽl” being a delightful portrayal of Christmas whilst the “Three Sketches” are highly stylised interpretations of Blues, Tango and Charleston.
 
The “Dance Sketches” of 1932 show how Martinů had evolved into a fully mature composer with a style distilled from his Czech roots, his influences taken from Stravinsky and his mentor Albert Roussel. Nevertheless they show an originality all his own. The final offering is his “Foxtrot” of 1920 and the only work on this recording dating from his time in his birthplace Polička, before leaving for France. This is a charming little gem that sounds as fresh today as when it was written 87 years ago. It shows how far-seeing his musical style was – think of it as Scott Joplin with a twist.
 
The pianist, Czech-born, but Swiss citizen, Giorgio Koukl, brings off the whole recital with great aplomb and makes a powerful case for the wider dissemination of these works. A joyous disc!
 
Steve Arloff


see also review by Patrick Waller
 





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