Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890 - 1959)
Complete Piano Music - Volume 7
A Fairy-Tale of Goldilocks (1910) [14:11]
From Andersen’s Fairy-Tales (1912) [17:36]
Ballade, Chopin’s Last Chords (1912) [3:20]
Merry Christmas 1941 (1941) [3:42]
The Little Lullaby (1919) [3:21]
La Danse (1929) [1:02]
Le train hanté (1937) [2:57]
Prélude (1921) [1:25]
Foxtrot narozerný na růžku (1920) [1:16]
Jaro (The Spring) (1921) [2:53]
Children’s Pieces (1932) [1:58]
Avec un doigt [00:41]
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
Chiara Solari (third hand in Avec un doigt)
rec. 7 April 2008, Conservatorio di Lugano, Switzerland. DDD
NAXOS 8.572025 [54:52]

The seventh volume in Koukl’s mammoth survey of the complete piano music of Bohuslav Martinů brings forward a wide range of music, covering the first half of the composer’s career. The two fairy tale suites show nothing we don’t already know about the young Martinu, except that the first movement of the From Andersen’s Fairy-Tales could almost be some modern day pop ballad, so easy-going and simple is the music. There’s nothing here to raise the temperature of your blood, in the way that the Fantasy and Toccata does, but these are lovely miniatures - if, at times, a trifle heavy-handed in their compositional execution. They are well deserving of a hearing, though quite how often one will come back to them is debatable.

Ballade, Chopin’s Last Chords is a tough piece, which exists without recourse to smiles! It’s all so serious, and so like what has preceded it that it could be another movement of that piece so similar is the music. Merry Christmas 1941 comes from Martinů’s maturity, written in New York, and it’s relaxed and full of humour. The Little Lullaby if not, perhaps, exactly subtle - I cannot imagine this putting anyone to sleep, especially the animated middle section - has an endearing tune and it is worked out quite nicely. La Danse is an example of very laboured jazz, Le train hanté is a piece in motor rhythm and the Foxtrot narozerný na růžku is an obvious music-hall type of piece. All three works are clearly of their time and are most enjoyable sidelights on the work of Les Six. Prélude is a chordal study with the sound of bells - it might just remind you, in a passing moment, of the Grand Gate at Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition.

Suddenly, with The Spring we enter a new sound-world. This could be Delius in places, and impressionistic Debussy at times, but there is the firm stamp of an original mind at work. This is a most pleasing work. The four Children’s Pieces certainly don’t waste any time, the longest is 39 seconds, the shortest 21! And the final Avec un doigt - in which Mrs Koukl plays the important one finger part - is a real hoot which brings this collection to a riotous close.

To be sure, there are no masterworks here, and the two suites which start the collection are rather hard work, but the miniatures are totally delightful. In the long run this is one for die-hard Martinů fans. I cannot imagine anybody else actually having any interest in these pieces. Those who want to investigate this composer would do much better to go to one of the first four volumes where there’s more consistent and original works. But I am all for more Martinů on disk so to all those who, like me, are crazy about Martinů, this will not disappoint.

Bob Briggs