I realize this sort of coupling - piggybacking a less-known
work alongside a related favorite - has become more or less
practice in record company A&R departments, but in this particular
instance, I’m not sure it works. It’s hard to imagine
newcomers attracted to the New World’s Romantic
rhetoric responding to Martinů’s intermittent astringencies.
Meanwhile, collectors wanting to try the Martinů symphony
will already be choking on multiple versions of the Dvořák
Still, some discographic interest inheres in the Martinů,
recordings of the composer’s music outside the Czech lands
remaining comparatively rare. The Second Symphony is typical
of the composer's symphonic writing, alternating accessible,
melodic passages with more intricate, angular ones. Of incidental
interest is Martinů’s use of the piano in his orchestra,
not only as percussive reinforcement of accents in the style
of other twentieth-century symphonists, but also as surprisingly
liquid chordal filler in the scherzo.
In the first movement, the waltzy rhythmic underpinning of the
opening theme persists through the more complex material later.
The second movement, Andante moderato, begins in a quiet,
searching mood which is reminiscent of the contemporaneous American
symphonists. The atmosphere is somehow maintained as the writing
becomes more dissonant, more or less evanescing to a close. The
irregular rhythmic vitality of the third movement, Poco allegro,
is unusually infectious; a sparkling series of solo woodwind
scales at 1:53 is fetching. The finale is busy and ambitious,
yet its harmonic contours and strutting syncopations sound oddly "American" -
suggesting, at times, Gershwin’s American in Paris!
The Cincinnati orchestra copes well with what was for them, I
imagine, an unfamiliar idiom. The sonority is clear and pleasing
at the outset, and in the more lightly scored passages, but the
fuller textures sound thick and cluttered. As usual with Martinů,
it's hard to tell whether the scoring or the playing might be
at fault - a bit of both, I suspect.
One could be forgiven for forgetting Järvi’s previous
recording of the Dvořák, a darkly Slavic interpretation
available for about five minutes, along with the rest of Intersound's
Royal Philharmonic Collection. The present performance is more
mainstream Bohemian in manner, though I'd have to say the first
movement doesn't work now. At the start, Järvi takes care
to bind the single-bar motifs into larger groups, making longer
phrases that hold the listener's attention; the horns' principal
theme similarly "arches" over the barlines. But the
conductor's conception is less "New World" than Old
World, with pronounced differences in tempo among the three themes,
each slower than the one before. The famous flute theme crawls,
burdened further when the strings take it up by a little agogic;
the transitions are awkward, and sound random, the tempo not
relaxing in quite the same place each time.
The other movements are more conventionally paced and proportioned.
In the slow movement, the great English horn solo is beautiful,
but coördination is approximate in the more agitated second
section, where the entries don’t quite line up. Järvi
makes a point of varying the articulations in the Scherzo’s Trio,
to good effect, though he has to play through some of the composer’s
rests to do it; and the Finale’s various episodes
and tempos are gathered into a coherent through-line, for an
The sound is clear enough; the slightly fuzzy orchestral image,
notably in the Martinů, is more likely a product of mildly
imprecise coördination among the enthusiastic Cincinnati
players, rather than any shortcoming in Telarc’s normally
It's hard to recommend this disc - granted, the Martinů isn't
otherwise readily available, still it isn't quite enough of an
inducement to take on yet another inconsistent New World.
It's worth seeking out the various Martinů symphonies in
Vacláv Neumann's Czech Philharmonic cycle (Supraphon);
there are good modern recordings of the Dvořák, I'm
sure, but the old analog accounts of Kertész (Decca),
Szell (Sony -- but I've not heard the CD processing), Kubelik/Berlin
(DG), and Reiner (RCA) are still hard to beat.
Stephen Francis Vasta
see also review by Rob