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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890–1959)
Complete Piano Music - Volume 5
Six Polkas, H. 101 (1916) [33:46]
Five Waltzes, H. 5 [16:58] (1910)
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
rec. 1 July 2008, Conservatorio di Lugano, Switzerland. DDD
NAXOS 8.572175 [50:44]
Experience Classicsonline

When I reviewed Volume 4 of this complete survey of Martinů’s piano music (see below), I was under the impression that it was the final issue in the set. In the notes for that release Naxos made the claim that new, and lost, manuscripts have turned up, and these discoveries have now made necessary the making of three more disks. Necessary, certainly, essential, without doubt.
The Polkas are very enjoyable. It must be said that there’s nothing startling or earth shaking about these miniatures – they simply entertain – but there are some unusual things to be encountered along the way. Although the language is almost entirely that of Smetana and Dvořák, number 4 brings in some startling silences which disrupt the flow of the music, not to mention some filigree work which the older composers would never have thought of. Number 5 is quite the bravura study, although it starts out as a simple dance and grows as the music progresses until suddenly we’re into the kind of full-blown study Chopin would have understood. After the first appearance of this music we return to the dance and so on. It’s really very exciting to hear this development of the material and see how the composer’s mind was working in such a simple form. The final Polka returns to the simpler mood of the earlier dances but it’s still a big piece - over seven minutes long - and well laid out for the full keyboard.
The Waltzes are Martinů’s earliest piano pieces and are truly delightful, but they are really salon pieces and there’s nothing which points the way to the master composer he was to mature into. The ghost of Dvořák is in evidence throughout the five pieces, but this is no criticism for there is much to enjoy in these simple sketches – they don’t aspire to much more than that. The third tries to become a big concert waltz. It’s interesting that even this early Martinů is seeking to expand a simple dance into something larger. At the end of the fourth there’s some interesting harmonic changes. The final waltz is part slowed–down Liadov Musical Snuff box and part Chaminade! An odd mix but entirely charming.
All Martinů fans will want this disk for it fills in some gaps in our knowledge of the composer. Even if you’ve been scared off the composer, though why that should be is beyond me, you’ll enjoy this disk as an example of Bohemian music in the lighter style. The lovely music is aided by a recording which is crisp and very clear, putting the piano in a concert hall perspective. The notes are very good too.
Bob Briggs

Reviews of other releases in this series
8.557914 - Volume 1: review review
8.557918 - Volume 2
8.557919 - Volume 3
8.570215 - Volume 4


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