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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Concerto for flute, violin and orchestra H252 (1936) [18:41]
Duo concertante for two violins and orchestra H264 (1937) [17:44]
Concerto in D major for two violins and orchestra H329 (1950) [18:37]
Bohuslav Matoušek (violin)
Janne Thomsen (flute)
Rgis Pasquier (violin)
Jennifer Koh (violin)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Hogwood
rec. Dvořk Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague June 2004 (Duo concertante) and December 2005 (remainder)
HYPERION CDA 67671 [55:06]


It was something of a shock to see these performances on Hyperion. I’m not privy to the matter but Matoušek and Hogwood have already made excellent recordings of the First Violin Concerto and Suite Concertante (premiere recording) for Supraphon [SU36532]. What intensifies the matter is that these new recordings, issued as volume one in a set of the complete music for violin and orchestra, are not exactly hot off the press. Has Supraphon declined to take on further volumes – and will the earlier disc reappear in this new Hyperion series?

While we ponder those questions we can reflect on the fact that Hyperion Volume One has started with works that even seasoned admirers of the composer may not have encountered. The Concerto for flute, violin and orchestra for instance was written in 1936, commissioned by Marcel Moyse for himself and his daughter-in-law Blanche Honegger Moyse to play. It’s written in his best neo-classical style, richly textured, with a piano to add variety. The flute’s writing is energetic and virile but almost immediately the violin introduces a second subject of ravishing beauty. The piano’s slightly off-kilter contribution is most audible in the central movement but what most impresses is the level of expressive continuity generated throughout – and also the gutty violin cadenza – and those moments when the two instruments entwine longingly; he composed it at around the time he wrote Julietta. Francophile dreamscapes fleck the finale, which alternates between perky drama and reflective stillness.

The following year Martinů wrote his Duo concertante and it was premiered in 1938 by the Desarzens brothers with the Suisse Romande and Ansermet. Readers will know that Victor Desarzens later became a conductor. This is a concerto grosso, strongly predicated on the alternation of soli and tutti and once again there’s a strong colouristic and rhythmic profile for the piano. The focus is the slow movement which rises to a considerable pitch of feeling led by the brass before the solo violins embrace gracious pirouetting and anticipate the cadential passage. The finale rather reprises the opening’s slightly pawky profile but Martinů constantly builds up and releases the tension with characteristic assurance. It’s a less distinctive work than the earlier concerto but fully characteristic.

In 1950 he wrote the Concerto in D major for two violins and orchestra. Once again he found violinistic brothers to play it – Gerald and Wilfred Beal, in Dallas in January 1951. But this is a work apart. The pre-war works cleaved to neo-classicism but this one embraces romanticism. The writing is verdant and vibrant but never becomes cloying. The “Juliette theme” reappears in the slow movement – always a good sign with Martinů - and this central movement courses with dance rhythms and youthful fire, as does the finale.

This is a propitious start in what looks like being a must-have series for the Martinů adherent. The engineering has placed the soloists – all highly, indeed admirably characterful – in close-up which means that some orchestral detail is occasionally obscured. I happen to like this immediacy of sound, feeling it suits the nature of the works, but I suspect that others will find it overdone.

Jonathan Woolf



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