Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Overture, H. 34 (1953) [56:30]
Concerto for piano and orchestra No. 2, H. 237 (1934) [21:13]
Les Fresques de Piero della Francesca, H. 352 (1955) [19:05]
Concerto for piano and orchestra No. 4 Incantation, H. 358 (1956) [18:33]
Robert Kolinsky (piano)
Sinfonieorchester Basel/Vladimir Ashkenazy
rec. Musiksaal Stadtcasino Basel, 29-30 October 2005 (live), 23 January 2007. DDD
ONDINE ODE 1158-2 [65:54]
Fifty years ago last year Martinu died in Switzerland. Such temporal landmarks provide concert promoters, conductors, radio companies and record labels with some impetus to celebrate; as if an excuse was necessary in the case of Martinu. The fruits of various 2009 projects will continue to find their way onto the record scene way into 2011. Who knows, perhaps Brilliant Classics will issue one of their gargantuan boxes for Martinu. That would be quite feasible if they could secure licences principally from Supraphon.
Ashkenazy’s emergence on Ondine has been an unalloyed success. His Ondines include a Suk Asrael that stands as the best among modern recordings. Here he turns to Martinu.
Ondine enters the Martinu lists with this disc and does so in exemplary style. Aside from a touch of muddiness in the bass this is a very good recording. Its technical qualities are matched by Ashkenazy’s creative values which are sympathetically turned to Martinu’s music. Ashkenazy accommodates its neo-classical aspects as well as its later wings-spread tragic-romantic exuberance.
The Overture is the epitome of the Martinu style of the 1950s with vivacity matched with a small insurgency of Stravinskian neo-classicism. The Second Concerto is a memento of the pre-war Paris years. Robert Kolinsky appears to revel in the pummelled power of the first movement and the sweet intoning of the second. The finale threads manic neo-classicism with desperation. In the hands of these forces Les Fresques glows with the neon intensity of the northern lights and pants with Mediterranean heat. It’s the best version I have heard – superb! Unswerving concentration holds the mood tight. This is great Martinu playing kept on a taut rhythmic leash. In the second movement the solo viola lines reaching out in needy tendrils. In the final fresco one can feel the heat of war in a turbulence also experienced in RVW’s 4th Symphony. However the overwhelming signature is a supernal shining light akin to the ‘true light’ that dazzles the listener at the apex of Howells’ Hymnus Paradisi. This is great music emerging from the chrysalis of neglect. It has the sense of rightness captured by Ansermet on Cascavelle but in modern sound. The Second and Fourth piano concertos are on a 2 CD BMG set played by Firkusny who is the dedicatee of the Fourth. Those two works will no doubt appear before too long to complete the piano concertos set begun by Naxos and Koukl on 8.572206 with concertos 3 and 5. For now though the Fourth Concerto, a very late piece, is far from a conventional adversarial work. Rather like Bax’s Symphonic Variations it has a mystical and hieratic quality. This is a vision for piano and orchestra and as such has much in common with the similar atmosphere of the Sixth Symphony and the more enigmatic and awed episodes in Martinu’s Epic of Gilgamesh.
The disc is very well documented and there are some well picked and fresh photographs courtesy of the Bohuslav Martinu Centre in Policka. The Centre’s director Aleš Brezina provides the adept and extensive liner-notes.
If you are looking for a single recently recorded disc to represent Martinu then look no further. When you want to move onwards then go for Turnovsky version of the Fourth Symphony on Apex.

Rob Barnett
If you are looking for a single recently recorded disc to represent Martinu then look no further ... see Full Review