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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
La Revue de Cuisine (1927) [15:33]
Sextet (1929) [15:48]
Four Madrigals (1937) [20:56]
Nonet (1959) [16:39]
Ensemble Villa Musica
rec. Furstliche Reitbahn, Bad Arolsen, April and November 2002 and December 2005 (La Revue, Nonet)

Very disappointing. Ensemble Villa Musica are a decent chamber group but I felt only two or three of the sixteen movements spread throughout this disc were taken at genuinely workable tempi. Furthermore there’s a drab sense of horizontal unengagement that spells death to Martinů’s rhythmic zest and articulacy of attack.
I’d rather like to leave it there but some supporting evidence is in order. The Nonet should snap, crackle and pop, even though it was one of his last completed scores. Instead we have a very polite delineation of the notes – expert in its way – but with very little behind them. I suppose there must be some precedent for the slow tempo for the Andante, though I’ve never heard a reading quite so slow – but the important matter is that the ensemble doesn’t thereby bring it to emotive life. The recording doesn’t aid sharpness and transparency of attack it’s true but just listen to the Czech Nonet, for whom it was written, to hear how it should go – I should add that this was a later 1970s line-up of the Nonet and the performance can be found on Campion RRCD1314.
The Madrigals are again far too slow and uninflected. Rhythms are smoothed out and generic. All the jazzy lines are polished out of all recognition. The tempo these fellows take the Four Madrigals had me devoutly wishing for a variable speed player; I’m sure it’s the first time the third has ever sounded like Hindemith. Lest I be thought only to promote native performances – I admit I generally do – the Dartington Ensemble on Hyperion CDA66133 really digs into the music and brings it strongly alive; and theirs is an all-Martinů programme as well.
Let’s skip the Sextet. It’s so sleepy and undernourished a performance it barely makes it to the speakers – this work can teem with character and panache, especially when Panenka and the Prague Wind Quintet get going on it on Supraphon. La Revue de Cuisine is one of Martinů’s best-known works but stick to Rauch, Sádlo et al on Supraphon or the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Hogwood on Decca, if you prefer an up-to-date recording. This way you’ll be spared some halfhearted playing. They reprise the slow tempo syndrome once more – this time the Tango is so horribly slow it grinds comprehensively to a halt.
All right, you’ve had enough of this and so have I. Time to move on.
Jonathan Woolf





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