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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Works for Violin and Piano
Elegy H3 (1909) [11:05]
Concerto H13 (1910) [26:42]
Sonata in C major H120 (1919) [32:14]
Sonata in D minor H152 (1926) [16:55]
Impromptu H166 (1927) [5:28]
Sonata No. 1 H182 (1929) [17:05]
Five Short Pieces H184 (1929) [11:04]
Ariette H188 A (1930) [1:56]
Sonata No. 2 H208 (1931) [12:19]
Seven Arabesques. Rhythmic Etudes H201A (1931) [14:33]
Sonatina in G major H262 (1937) [8:33]
Intermezzo. Four Pieces H261 (1937) [10:52]
Rhythmic Etudes H202 (1931) [13:37]
Five Madrigal Stanzas H297 (1943) [10:37]
Sonata No. 3 H303 (1944) [27:13]
Czech Rhapsody H307 (1945) [10:06]
Bohuslav Matoušek (violin); Petr Adamec (piano)
rec. Martinů Hall, Lichtenstein Palace, Prague, July 1996-April 1998
SUPRAPHON SU3950-2 [4 CDs: 70:20 + 50:57 + 48:49 + 62:00]
Experience Classicsonline

Supraphon have done some substantial justice to Martinů during the decade leading up to the half centenary of his death. There has been a new cycle of the symphonies (Valek) although MusicWeb has not as yet been able to source a review copy. The works for cello and orchestra/piano, the piano concertos and the music for solo piano together with much of the orchestral music has been issued by them. Other companies including Naxos in Giorgio Koukl’s wonderful piano cycle and Hyperion’s complete music for violin and orchestra have done valuable work.
The present 4 CD set reflects his complete output from before the Great War at the age of 19 in his homeland to age 55. The Czech Rhapsody was dedicated to Kreisler at the end of the Second World War and was written amid success in the USA. The box breaks new ground for Supraphon being a stylish and durable hard card item with a dumpy booklet and the discs each inserted in a plain paper sleeve. It’s certainly a space saver when compared with the company’s established approach of extravagant multiple jewel boxes.
The violin was Martinů’s instrument. It had been his passport from Policka to Prague and the ranks of Talich’s Czech Philharmonic. Bohuslav Matousek has convincing Martinů credentials having been leader of the Stamic Quartet – who recorded the complete Martinů string quartets (review review) and whose complete Martinů for violin and orchestra has come out on Hyperion (vol. 1; vol. 2; vol. 3; vol. 4) and partially on Supraphon.
Amongst his first compositions is the 1909 Elegy with its grandstanding melodrama. The 1910 Concerto has nothing to do with his masterwork of the 1950s: the Double Concerto for violin, piano and orchestra. It is salon-smooth and undemanding. The Violin Sonata in C major is made of sturdier stuff – worsted to the 1910 work’s threadbare sacking. It is impressive and rises to considerable majesty. Count it in the same company as the Goossens, Dunhill and Ireland sonatas of that time. It also chimes in with the mood of Martinů’s Czech Rhapsody for baritone, chorus and orchestra. The D minor sonata carries the stigmata of Jazz and his studies with Roussel. The Impromptu has even greater ‘face’ – mercurial and fading from chaffing to soliloquising, from lively to thoughtful. The Violin Sonata No. 1 is followed by the Five Short Pieces - dedicated to Martinů biographer Miloš Šafránek – an important friend during his Parisian sojourn. These are not the most melodically juicy of pieces. The 1930 Ariette mixes singing melody with ragtime. The Violin Sonata No. 2 is a compact Stravinskian neo-classical piece. The sweetly ingratiating Seven Arabesques - Rhythmic Etudes are laid out for violin or cello. The very short 1937 Sonatina and the 1927 Impromptu veer toward the Dvořák of the salon. The Rhythmic Etudes H202 were written for advanced amateurs. Martinů was enamoured of the Madrigal. The Madrigal Stanzas are dedicated to Albert Einstein - himself an amateur violinist. These are fully personal pieces. The Third Sonata – another product of the years in the USA – is another very substantial piece. It is tough, lyrical and nostalgic. Much the same can be said of the last work - the wistful Czech Rhapsody. It sings with the aspirational and exuberant loftiness we know from the Sinfonietta La Jolla and the Fourth Symphony.
This is not the first appearance of these treasurable recordings. They were reviewed here as two separate 2CD sets in 2003 (review).
Rob Barnett


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