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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Complete works for violin and orchestra - Vol.2

Concerto da camera H285 (1941) [26:16]
Concerto for violin, piano and orchestra H342 (1953) [27:46]
Czech Rhapsody H307A (1945) [10:28]
Bohuslav (violin)
Karel Košárek (piano)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Hogwood
rec. Dvořk Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, 16-17, 23-28 April 2004

HYPERION CDA67672 [64:35]
Experience Classicsonline

Jonathan Woolf was surprised to see how long it had taken Volume 1 of this ongoing series to appear, and the sessions recorded in volume 2 were made even earlier, if only by a couple of months. The time is now right apparently, and while I haven’t always been bowled over by Hyperion’s Martinů releases in the past, Christopher Hogwood’s pedigree in his work with the Czech Philharmonic on Supraphon bodes well for this series.

The Concerto da camera was written as Martinů was finding his feet after escaping occupied France to settle in the USA. The first movement is full of that typical Martinů rhythmic drive, also having a nervy edginess to it which, despite the lyrical nature of much of the music, to my mind pervades the whole like a restless undercurrent. The second movement attempts that overlapping and layering build-up which appears to such electrifying effect in the Double Concerto, but here adding up to less than the sum of its parts, possibly indicating Martinů’s powers at less than 100% still, in his new environment. There is much powerful music in the rest of this Adagio however, with poignantly expressive, yearning outpourings which could come from no other composer: I still love it to bits. Dancing syncopations characterise the third movement, and its full impact is brought across by Bohuslav Matoušek and the Czech Philharmonic, with Karel Košárek’s piano highly present in the mix, without taking over at climaxes. My comparison recording of this piece is from the Amati label, with Lydia Dubrovskaya as violin soloist with the Sudwestdeutsches Kammerorchester conducted by Vladislav Czarnecki. This alternative is very respectable, but the more intimate scale of the chamber music forces coupled with a smaller and rather muddy acoustic is always going to have to struggle against a full symphonic orchestra in their home concert hall of the Rudolfinum in Prague.

The Concerto for violin, piano and orchestra has the same instrumentation as the Concerto da camera, but has an entirely different feel right from the start. The piano receives far more equal billing in the score in relation to the violin, and the music of the first movement Poco allegro, has an almost neo-classical, fresh and open feel. Martinů felt his work best described in terms of light, and the results here are radiant both in concept and execution. There is that tug of home which Martinů must have felt, exiled from Czechoslovakia by the communist takeover, and the sense of ‘woods and fields’ which has its relationship with Smetana and others can be smelt wafting from the other side of the Atlantic. The tonal directness of the opening movement is dispersed by more questioning progressions in opening of the central Adagio, and the subsequent more folk-like harmonic gestures looking forward in a way to Copland’s famous contributions to the orchestral repertoire. Not content with solely wallowing in this slow bath of mood music, Martinů bumps up the rhythmic tension before resolving into a rhapsodic melody for the violin. The final Allegro is a powerful movement, driving forward on a rhythmic or sonic ‘perpetuum mobile’, nonetheless filled with contrast and surprise. The piano is given a short cadenza after an orchestral full stop, and the whole thing builds to a climactic coda which ends in the optimistic whiteness of C major.

The Czech Rhapsody was originally written for violin and piano, and appears here in the now equally if not better known orchestration by Jiř Teml. It was the composer’s original intention to orchestrate the piece, and Teml used the gorgeous and contemporaneous Rhapsody Concerto as a point of reference. This piece is not of course to be confused with the work from 1918 of the same name, which is for baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra. Working in this form so many years on gave Martinů more than a few compositional problems, and the virtuoso violin part is certainly a challenge for any player. Despite appearing at the end of the horrors of WWII, this work is full of joy and springy rhythmic leaps and bounds.

These recordings are superbly engineered, and while the remarks about forward balance for the soloists with volume 1 of this series might apply to the violin, the piano is perfectly placed – mixing like a continuo part where required, and supporting rhythmically or rising up as soloist to full effect. All concerned can be congratulated on an excellent production and a superb programme, and this release comes highly recommended to Martinů fans and enthusiasts for good music everywhere.

Dominy Clements


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