Bohuslav MARTIN Ů (1890-1959)
Chamber Music with Flute
Sonata for flute, violin and piano H.254 (1936) [15:57]
Sonata for flute and piano H.306 (1945) [18:27]
Sextet for piano and woodwinds H.174 (1929) [15:20]
Trio for flute, cello and piano H.300 (1944) [19:06]
Fenwick Smith (flute); Sally Pinkas (piano); John Ferrillo (oboe); Thomas Martin (clarinet): Richard Ranti and Suzanne Nelson (bassoons); Haldan Martinson (violin); Rhonda Ryder (cello)
rec. September 2002 (Sonata for flute and piano) and March 2005 (Sonata for flute, violin and piano); March 2004 (Sextet) and March 2007 (Trio) The Sonic Temple, Roslindale, Massachusetts and Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory
NAXOS 8.572467 [68:50]
It’s rather unusual, and therefore welcome, to find a disc devoted so squarely to Martinů’s chamber works involving the flute Normally one finds that companies prefer a more across the board approach, mixing the flute works with, say, the Madrigal sonatas or with La Revue de Cuisine or with the Nonet. Or one finds a presentation of the Czech composer’s works in the context of near contemporaries, such as Poulenc and Prokofiev, in an exploration specifically of the powerfully attractive Flute Sonata. So, it’s pleasing to find a disc such as this, which has the confidence to focus closely.
The Sonata for flute, violin and piano H.254 was written in 1936 and dedicated to the wife of Marcel Moÿse, whose husband, Marcel, gave the premiere in a ‘family affair’ performance with Louis Moÿse and Blanche Moÿse Honegger. Interestingly a 1938 performance by this august trio has survived and was issued on a Martinů Society promotional CD in 2005. The present Naxos performance is good but sounds somewhat ‘sewing machine’ in places, especially in comparison with the more specialised Gallic charm of the older trio’s performance. The slow movement, though, has tenderness and a real sense of affection and it seems pedantic, given the finesse of the playing, to note that the Moÿse performance had a more aloofly yielding introspection in this movement. Where I do feel a decided superiority in the older performance is in the finale, where the Naxos trio make rather too much of a contrast when moving into the B section; it sounds much better when, as with the Moÿse, you slide into it without too much fuss.
Probably the best known of the quartet in this selection is the Flute Sonata. Fenwick Smith and Sally Pinkas are assured guides but take a decidedly less incisive approach than, say, Jean-Pierre Rampal and John Steele Ritter [SK53106, in a very mixed mainly vocal recital by Kathleen Battle]. I prefer Ritter’s more arresting pianism and the greater sense of characterisation generated by the Rampal-Ritter duo generally. Perhaps the Naxos duo honour the finale’s Allegro poco moderato injunction just a touch better in the slightly steadier tempo they adopt - but Rampal does shape the birdsong more inventively in any case.
The Sextet for piano and winds is the earliest work here, dating from 1929. It’s cast in five brief movements, and utilises baroque punctuation adeptly. There’s a beautiful Adagio, and a Blues in which the bassoon imitates a night club saxophone; then a vivacious finale. This Sextet reminds us of La Revue de Cuisine, especially in its use of the vampy and Stride-patterned piano contributions and the infectious liveliness of the writing. The Trio for flute, cello and piano H.300 (1944) is an attractive work, and sports one truly memorable idea - the flute recitative over accompanying cello pizzicato figures. It’s a fluid and leisurely piece, in all respects, not from the top drawer but marked by consummate craftsmanship.
Well recorded over a period of years in two locations, these performances have been artfully brought together. None is a front-ranker, quite, but all are highly personable.
Jonathan Woolf 

Highly personable.