Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959) Piano Concerto No. 4, H358 Incantation (1956) [20:24]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D major, H149 (1925) [29:20]
Piano Concerto No. 2, H237 (1934) [24:50]
Giorgio Koukl (piano), Bohuslav Martinů Symphony Orchestra, Zlin/Arthur Fagen
rec. 28-31 May 2009, The House of Arts, Zlin, Czech Republic
NAXOS 8.572373 [74:45]
The first instalment in this series – the third and fifth concertos
– received a cautious welcome from BBr, who suggested it would
appeal to newcomers rather than those familiar with earlier,
more authoritative versions (review).
This Czech orchestra and soloist are new to me, but on first
acquaintance they make a fairly good impression. Not only that,
the sound seems reasonably full and well balanced. I did wonder
why Naxos chose to start with the fourth concerto, but I soon
realised it’s simply the best of the three and hence a sensible
This two-movement concerto starts arrestingly enough, Koukl’s
playing – like that of the orchestra – perhaps less trenchant
than one might expect from this composer. That said, there’s
a breadth to this performance that’s most appealing, the piano
sounding natural, the percussion well caught. There are some
unexpected idylls in this restless mix, whose sonorities occasionally
remind me of the composer’s FieldMass. The Poco
allegro is a tad prolix though, with a hint of Hollywood B-movie
about it, the Poco moderato a moody little number that blends
lyricism and bite. This is an easy, unassuming performance,
but is that enough?
The first is the weakest concerto here, from the rhetorical
opening through to the close shadowing of orchestra and soloist.
The declamatory writing comes across well, the simple, open
passages reminiscent of Copland. In this performance at least
one senses Koukl and Fagen are working hard to reanimate the
music, as impetus and inspiration flag; the Andante is too ponderous
for my tastes, a huge contrast to the Prokofiev-like quirkiness
of the preceding movement. Still, Koukl is always engaging,
the band attentive – if somewhat uncouth – in the final Allegro.
There’s a momentary shift of perspective here, but it’s hardly
The second concerto suffers from the same excess of gesture,
although the detail and point of Martinů’s scoring are
well conveyed. There’s a freewheeling quality to the first movement
too, bringing a sense of personality to what are otherwise po-faced
utterances. What a pity the excitable tuttis are so crude and
close. Everyone makes the most of this rambling Andante, which
can so easily seem like an extended ‘doodle’. That’s certainly
the case here, the lack of inspiration thrown into sharp relief
by raucous climaxes. The final movement is rather more quixotic,
although there’s a bluff quality to the writing that’s wearying
after a while.
I’d like to echo BBr’s comments about these performances perhaps
appealing to those unfamiliar with these concertos – they certainly
seemed that way on first hearing – but subsequent auditions
suggest they are much too variable to recommend.
from previous months Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the
discs reviewed. details We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to
which you refer.