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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Complete works for violin and orchestra - Volume 3
Suite concertante (first version) H276 (1939) [24:02]
Suite concertante (second version) H276A (1944) [22:42]
Rhapsody-Concerto H337 (1952) [21:53]
Bohuslav Matoušek (violin)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Hogwood
rec. Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, May 2001 (H276), April 2004 (H276A), December 2005 (H337)
HYPERION CDA67673 [68:49]
Experience Classicsonline

Like the different versions of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, there is no real perversity in presenting the two versions of Martinů’s Suite concertante on one disc. Commissioned by the Polish-born, American violinist Samuel Dushkin, Martinů’s original intentions for the work had been to write a set of ‘Czech Dances for violin and orchestra’, but unaccustomed difficulties with the work’s gestation led the composer to scrap his original sketches and start anew. Plans for the first performance of the work were interrupted by impending war, and it was fifty years before the first version of the work would see the light of day in May 2000 at the Prague Spring Festival. The excellent booklet notes for this release describe the air of mystery surrounding the work’s neglect, the piece having been offered to Koussevitzky more than once, and eventually first played in the early 1940s with the orchestral part in piano reduction.
The Suite concertante has a great deal of violin-virtuoso writing in the solo part, with some spectacular birdsong-like stylings in the Intermezzo third movement. The Meditation second movement forms a central elegy, and owes its character at least in part to Martinů’s desperate love for Vítěslava Kaprálová, a woman half the composer’s age. Martinů’s trademark orchestration with piano, and his harmonic fingerprints such as the so-called ‘Juliette chord’ are all richly present, rounded off with a more than usually rambunctious Allegro vivo finale.
The second version differs from the first in a number of significant ways – so much so that there are probably more differences than similarities. The material of the opening Prelude is used, but altered considerably, and the second movement, now an Aria, has even more of that searching harmonic spice on which the open and free melodic shapes surf in a kind of slow motion ballet of musical development. Listing all of the changes and transformations is an interesting exercise, but also significantly Martinů uses similar ideas from the final Rondo in his Violin Concerto No. 1. The coupling of this version of the Suite concertante with that first violin concerto appeared with exactly the same forces, right down to the producer and engineer, and made in the same location as this disc on a Supraphon release: SU3653-2031. I would expect the timings to be similar, but the timings for not only the whole work but that of each movement are identical in both releases. The Supraphon version was made in May 2001, and December 2005 is given as the recording date on the Hyperion disc. The simple effort of putting the two together on a mixer programme however shows that they are in fact one and the same recording.
Martinů’s Rhapsody-Concerto for viola and orchestra has been one of my desert-island works for a long time now, and, like my much loved reference recording (Supraphon 110374-2) of Josef Suk with Vaclav Neumann, shows soloist Bohuslav Matoušek equally at home with the larger viola in his hands as the violin. Written in New York in 1952, the work can be seen both as the start of Martinů’s late neo-Romantic style, and as emotively expressive of the composer’s nostalgia for the land of his youth. This is essential Martinů, and equally essential for any lover of good music in my humble opinion. I wouldn’t want to be without Suk, but the Matoušek/Hogwood combination shows an equally warm and affectionate view of the music. If anything, they are a little more spacious, an aspect reflected in slightly longer playing times, in the first of the two movements in particular. The music refuses to drag however, and Hogwood builds the opening of the second movement with great power. A little more urgency in the poco allegro might not have come amiss, but I am so pre-programmed with Suk that I am reluctant to make this a point of criticism. This is life-enhancing stuff which, should you not already know it I can only urge you to try – it may convert you to Martinů for life, and I sincerely hope it does. If it doesn’t, at least you will have one of his most beautiful works, and one of the best for that neglected solo string instrument, the viola.
In conclusion, this continuation of Hyperion’s Complete Music for Violin and Orchestra (see reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2) is a masterly, moving and highly enjoyable disc. If someone can resolve the Supraphon H276A question then you can call me Postman Pat, and mark me down as a very happy man indeed.
Dominy Clements


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