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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Complete Piano Music 5

Polkas H.101 (1916) [33:46]
Five Waltzes H.5 (1910) [16:57]
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
rec. Conservatorio di Lugano, 1 July 2008
NAXOS 8.572175 [50:43]
Experience Classicsonline

Volume Four was to have been the final release in Giorgio Koukl’s survey of the Complete Piano Music but along comes Volume Five with two previously unrecorded cycles to intrigue and amaze the Martinů lover. Not only that but Koukl, who has enjoyed access to previously unknown or ‘lost’ manuscripts, has enough material for even more volumes so that we shall be even more in the collective debt of pianist and record company.
 
The two cycles here are very early. The Waltzes date from 1910 and the Polkas from 1916. If we take the Five Waltzes first we can appreciate how, although broadly conventional, they look further afield geographically than one might expect. The First, an Andante, owes something to Albéniz and if the third is more straightforward in its affiliations it certainly lacks for little in boldness.  The last of them is undoubtedly the most noteworthy and the most affecting. It’s lyric, quite slow and very different from the preceding more stylised affair. The harmonies in No.11 tend to the slightly more aggressively impressionist in places and there is rich chording and then a ruminative, almost wistful close.
 
The Polkas were written in the middle of World War I and there are six of them. One notices immediately the composer’s happy penchant for erratic phrase lengths which gives the music an unbalanced, tensile verve even within the obvious constraints of the form. The opening Polka is quite Dvořákian though it sports some intriguing harmonic drifts in the writing. The second is perhaps more closely aligned with the older Czech figure with a powerful Slavonic Dance feel to boot. By the Third we move more into Chopinesque waters; it’s rather a statuesque piece, this one, but the lilting central section is more fluent. Moving between treble and bass sonorities No.4 creates its own intensity, whilst No.5 employs busier Chopin–inspired figuration to make its points which it does to better effect in its dreamy B section. The final Polka presents a more fully extrovert Chopin derived face; well assimilated though not especially distinctive. I think it’s fair to say that it would be well nigh impossible to guess the composer except for a few possible - very possible - intimations in the opening Polka.
 
Once again Koukl is the most distinguished guide and his excavation and retrieval work will, one hopes, lead not only to those further volumes but publication and public performances. These newly retrieved pieces tell us something, at least, about the composer’s development, and his enthusiasms. I would start with the lovely Fifth Waltz both to enjoy the writing at its most engaging and to appreciate Koukl’s playing at its more devoted.
 
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Bob Briggs


 


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