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Le Jour de Bonté (The Day of Charity) (Den Dobrocinnosti)
H. 194 - opera in two acts and an appendix (1931) [73:16]
Lucas – Tomáš Bijok (tenor)
Nicolas – Petr Matuszek (baritone)
Blonde – Irena Troupová (soprano)
La Déspérée – Lucie Fišer Silkenová (soprano)
Peter Podlauf, Michal Macuha, Libuše Moravcová Myrátská, Gabriela
Petirová, Jarmila Kosinová, Petra Havránková, Josef Zedník, Josef
Škarka, Jaroslav Kovacs, Lívia Obrucník Vénosová, Zbynek Brabec,
Prague Chamber Choir/Lubomir Matl
Pilsen Philharmonic Orchestra/Milan Kanák
rec. Czech Radio Pilzen Studio, November-December 2009
world premiere recording - courtesy Cesky Rozhlas.
Full texts and Translations
ARCO DIVA UP 6121-2 131 [73:16]
The Day of Charity was an opera that Martinu was working
on in Paris in 1931 around the time of his wedding. Its story
concerns two French peasants who hear that a day of charity
has been declared in Paris so they go to the capital to find
needy people for whom to perform good works. However, nothing
goes quite to plan: among their many adventures a beggar rejects
their offering, a traffic conductor tells them off for getting
in the way and a suicidal girl berates them for preventing her
longed-for death. After an altercation with some women they
are arrested and wake up the next morning back in their village.
Perhaps the whole thing was just a dream?
Martinu was writing the opera with the hope of getting it staged
by a French theatre, but any prospect of this seems to have
evaporated and, in April 1931, he broke off writing half-way
through the first act and never took it up again. This world
premiere recording gives us the score as the composer left it.
It’s infuriatingly incomplete and breaks off just after the
half-way mark of the story, but conductor Václav Nosek, whose
pet project the reconstruction was, must have felt that a solid
half was better than nothing at all.
The score was unpublished in Martinu’s day and it was Nosek
who undertook the research and puzzle-solving required to piece
it together into a performing version. He also gave it its first
staging in Budejovice in March 2003 but died before the making
of this recording. The present conductor, Milan Kanák, dedicates
the recording to him and cites him frequently in his informative
notes to this issue.
So what are we left with? The first thing to note is that Martinu’s
scoring is a delight. He writes for a chamber orchestra with
a piano and the pared down textures really gleam. The undulating
line that accompanies the opening pastoral scene is enchanting
and the composer evokes the harsh Paris streetscape and the
bustling railway station with the same assuredness. The idyllic
nature of village life is beautifully evoked in the opening
scenes but the music takes on a sharper edge when petty quarrels
and squabbles intrude. It also pokes gentle fun at authority
figures such as the Mayor or Gendarme but can produce uncannily
powerful melodrama for the scene featuring the woman who had
been saved from drowning (called La Déspérée). It’s charming
and interesting and leaves you hungry for more. Infuriatingly
it breaks off in the middle of the Concierge scene, which seemed
to be going in a very interesting direction, but you’ll have
to decide for yourself whether half an opera is worth your investment.
The performances are dedicated and strong, not least from the
outstanding Prague Chamber Choir whose delicate choral textures
are as illuminating as the orchestra’s , sounding ethereal,
even angelic in the village scenes. The two leads, Lucas and
Nicolas, throw themselves into the project and the myriad minor
roles are all taken well, with particularly strong contributions
from the soprano roles of Blonde and La Déspérée. Kanák’s direction
is assured and confident and he keeps the action moving at a
witty pace, making it all the more frustrating when things come
to such an abrupt halt.
This disc is the culmination of a worthy piece of musical archaeology
and the performance is very good, though half an opera is a
difficult sell and I can’t help but think that it’s primarily
for Martinu aficionados and completists. You’ll have to judge
for yourself. Full texts and translations are provided, as well
as a scholarly essay on the recording’s genesis, which might
help you make up your mind.
And a further review … from Rob Barnett
This ripely attractive music completely defies the neo-classical expectations usually aroused in me by products of Martinu's Parisian years. This music shares its harvest-time effervescence and joy with the vintage of his later years.
The singing has a delicately yielding passion reminiscent of Canteloube in the pastoral bubbling of tr. 2. This develops stormily from the male choir. Ever-rising ecstatic waves are topped off by jubilant trumpets and vituperative piano ripples (7.45). Train noises and echo effects are mixed in with the spoken word. Later on we get charabanc and auto sounds in the scene where we meet a gendarme directing traffic complete with white baton and whistle. The melancholy modal viola sings out before sharp stabbing whoops by the men and then the women are punctuated with piano ‘gunshots’. Intricate volleys and cannonades from the choir rise to a delicious discord (6.37, tr. 4). The Act II Introduction sports a tapping snare-drum and a poignant and sometimes vinegary trumpet solo. The music is pointillistic and open-textured. Tr. 6 miraculously and inventively begins by evoking the ripple of rainfall. In tr. 7 we hear the piano in wild jazz-pianola flight set amid a bubbling joy familiar from the decade-later Fourth Symphony. In tr. 8 the musical language again prefigures the joyously dense harmonic updrafts of the 1940s. This is succeeded by a zany Poulencian music-hall jollity (tr. 9). The final delightful ‘La La La’ chorus is reminiscent of Les Swingles.
The set is documented in regal fashion as its aural and artistic excellence deserves. The essays and other background are in a booklet housed in the usual place in the jewel-case. The four language parallel-format libretto sits together with the box in a card slip-case. The original text is in French and is sung by a Czech cast.
The occasional slapstick, broad humour and touchingly poignant episodes coupled with pastoral succulence reminded me of a contemporary English work - RVW's Sir John in Love. The two might have been brothers under the skin. This work if only completed could easily have ended up as Martinu’s most famous and successful opera had he completed it.
This is one of the highlights and discoveries of the 2009 Martinu celebrations.