Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
6 Simple Songs, H.110 [6:51]
3 Lullabies, H.146bis [6:03]
2 Small Songs in Folk Idiom, H.14 [2:18]
2 Songs on Russian Poetry, H.135bis [3:34]
3 Goethelieder, H.94 [2:50]
The Gnat's Wedding, H.75 [1:16]
3 Children's Songs, H.146 [4:01]
Dead Love, H.44 [2:46]
Czech Riddles, H.277bis [4:39]
2 Songs, H.31 [4:10]
Walk, I Walk Among the Hills, H.74bis [1:37]
How Dear to Me the Hour, H.106 [2:35]
Blissfulness, H.81 [1:39]
Tears, H.41 [2:28]
Mood Drawing, H.29 [3:03]
A Girl's Dreams, H.22 [2:46]
When We are Both Old, H.10 [3:22]
Before You Know, H.6 [1:52]
Night after Night in Dreams I See You, H.57 [2:25]
Night (No. 3 of 3 Songs on French Texts), H.88 [1:42]
Life’s Over for Me, H.43 [2:27]
At Night, H.30 [5:54]
A Song of 1st November the First, H.72 [1:19]
Old Song, H.74 [2:27]
Song on an Old Spanish Text, H.87 [1:42]
A Song about Kissing, H.27bis [1:05]
I Know a Nice Green Grove, H.273 [1:22]
Jana Wallingerová (mezzo); Giorgio Koukl (piano)
rec. 15-17 March 2010, Koruni Studio, Prague
NAXOS 8.572588 [79:28]
Song was in important part of Martinů’s output, at least in terms of the number of works. This disc is billed as Volume 1; if further issues are as good as this one we are in for a treat.
There are forty-one songs here, which even those as arithmetically challenged as I am will easily see works out at an average of less than two minutes per song. This is therefore a disc to dip into, to listen to in small doses. Playing the whole disc will, I fear, transform the recital into mere background music.
Of the vast number of songs and sets of songs Martinů composed, the majority date from the beginning of his career. A fair number of the songs on this disc were composed between the years 1910-1912. Choice of texts in all these songs ranges widely, with many settings of Czech writers, but also some foreign texts, including Goethe and Heine, sometimes in translation, sometimes in the original language. There are also numerous settings of traditional Czech folk texts.
The Six Simple Songs are just as their title suggests. Based on folk texts, these are short, melodious and irresistible. Similar comments might be made about most of the programme, and certainly about the following Three Lullabies, as well as the second of the Two Small Songs in Folk Idiom, with its surprising semitone shifts.
According to Mark Gresham’s booklet note, the Three Goethelieder - over in less than three minutes - were settings of Czech translations from the original German. They are certainly sung in German here, however. Confusing! Truth to say, the essay doesn’t do much to help the listener find a way though this mass of material. This is a pity, since songs as short as this can seem perfunctory, and there are so many of them, and most of them so short, that listening alone could easily give the impression that there isn’t much variety. A little commentary on each song would help, and this, after all, is what the insert notes should really be for. Then things are rendered even more difficult by an error in the order of songs 30-37 as printed on the back cover and in the booklet. This has apparently been corrected online since my colleague Byzantion wrote his review, and listeners will now find the true order there. Speaking of the programme as a whole, appreciation of the songs without access to the texts is well-nigh impossible, so listeners are urged to consult the online texts and translations, inconvenient though it be for those of us who do not want to sit at the computer whilst listening to music.
Other highlights of the programme, at least for this listener, are The Goat’s Wedding, a Czech folk song, thoroughly delightful, the stout piano part ideally suited to the melody, and the sombre Dead Love. I also enjoy very much Czech Riddles, a whole series of them in one, with an important piano part, and which ends with the singer doing a passable imitation of a crow! Tears and Mood Drawing are also extremely affecting, though the waltz-like response to Heine’s tale of love lost in Night after Night in Dreams I See You is surprising and takes a little getting used to. The recital ends with a striking invitation to us all to sing the song three times before breakfast if we want our sins forgiven.
Giorgio Koukl has already recorded a lot of Martinů for Naxos, including the piano concertos. One would expect his playing to be totally idiomatic, and so it is, and he also shows himself to be a most sensitive accompanist. Jana Wallingerová is a fine singer who manages beautifully to tone down a naturally large voice for such pieces as the 3 Children’s Songs. One or two pieces elsewhere might benefit from rather less sophisticated delivery, but with a voice of this quality and singing of such intelligence one looks forward to hearing her in other repertoire, especially in longer works that will enable her to get into her stride. She strives hard to follow the rules when singing in a foreign language, and is quite successful, though her French, in particular, betrays her at times. The recording is superbly rich and lifelike, with an exemplary balance between voice and piano.
see also review by Byzantion
Forty-one songs at less than two minutes a song: a beautifully performed recital that merits careful but selective listening.