Unlike the omnivorous Giorgio Koukl, fellow Czech pianist Paul Kaspar is going slow in his exploration of the core Martinu piano music. There are no indications yet as to how far this cycle will go, or whether it will in any way seek to replicate the multi-volume Koukl-Naxos trawl of every scrap that Martinu wrote for the solo instrument. One suspects, given that Kaspar’s journey started back in 2002 in recordings made by Bavarian Radio in Munich, that his ‘cycle’ will be less exhaustive. I’ve written about his previous two volumes (see review
) and the essential truths remain, certainly as regards the Koukl, and the Leichner recordings.
or Marionettes – one takes one’s pick in English as to the title - was written in three books over a decade. They are brief character studies, lit with compressed theatrically and terpsichorean impulse. Koukl (see the review of Puppets
) etches these pieces sharper in the main whilst Emil Leichner, that venerable master on Supraphon, prefers a rather more romanticised patina. Kaspar’s tempi are similar, give or take, to Koukl’s but the latter is the more rhythmically playful. I liked Kaspar’s playing in the central movement from Book I, where he finds a touch more mystery than his competitors, though he does weight his chords rather more ‘artistically’ and some may find him a touch mannered as a result. He and his engineers prefer in any case a mellow, bronze-brown tone whereas Koukl, true to his stylistic precepts, evinces a more bright, treble-orientated sonority. This inevitably affects things; the burnish of Kaspar and the incision of Koukl, whereas Leichner remains somewhere in the middle.
In the challenges of Les ritournelles
H227 Kaspar plays with overt expressivity. Koukl is quicker than both Kaspar and Leichner, the former’s playing being stylish, committed and energetic, the latter’s more seignorial. Kaspar is perhaps the most expression-conscious. None however adopt Firkusny’s solution, which is one of the most tensile approach to architecture, involving sculpting the first of the two intermezzi with the most dynamic motion imaginable. Otherwise, at a more ponderous speed, the chordal repetitions can (and often do) sound a bit dull, and the Martinu cadences fail to thrill as they should. Kaspar’s second Intermezzo is affectionate and unhurried if sometimes a touch literal.
The Eight Préludes
(1929) are dance-drenched examples of the composer’s curiosity in this area. Kaspar plays the Scherzo by digging in hard and his Largo is quite extensive. Again, Koukl proves the quicker, if relative speed matters to you. More important is the element of accenting and the rhythmic charge that a tighter tempo conveys. In many cases however Kaspar’s solutions are perfectly idiomatic and convincing.
So, once again, Kaspar offers viable alternatives to his disc competitors. Questions of tonal wash and accenting will play their important part in the equation. There are price considerations here, as well as the question of preferring to pick and choose amidst the 7 CD series from Naxos, and the Supraphon three CD box (SU36562). In my experience Kaspar’s performances are for those with a burnished, less extrovert appreciation of the composer’s piano music.