Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
CD 1
Symphony No. 4(1945) [34:13]
Sinfonietta- La Jolla for piano and chamber orchestra (1950) [20:44]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Walter Weller
Les Fresques de Piero della Francesca for large orchestra (1955) [18:19]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik
CD 2
Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani H271 (1938) [21:57]
John Alley (piano); Charles Fulbrook (timpani)
Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra H207 (1931) [18:19]
Endellion Quartet (Andrew Watkinson (violin); Ralph de Souza (violin); Garfield Jackson (viola); David Waterman (cello);
Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, bassoon, violin, cello and orchestra (1949) [21:02]
Nicholas Daniel (oboe); Stephen Reay (bassoon); Andrew Watkinson (violin); Stephen Orton (cello);
City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
Memorial to Lidice (1943) [7:14]
Bamberger Symphoniker/Ingo Metzmacher
rec. 27-28 September 1979 Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool (4; Jolla); 12, 14 April 1958, Kingsway Hall (Frescoes); No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, 9, 11-12 May 1989 (Hickox); Sinfonie an der Regnitz, 3 May 1995 (Lidice). ADD/DDD
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 2643502 [73:23 + 69:29]

This is a handy bargain-price overview of the orchestral Martinu in analogue (CD 1) and digital (CD 2) sound. It has been picked from hither and yon among the four corners of the EMI vault. Blessedly dominated by works from his American 1940s and 1950s, it gives a pretty fair representation of the orchestral aspect of this Czech composer. He is - after 2009, the half-centenary of his death - coming into his own.

Weller’s 1979 Liverpool version of the stunning Fourth Symphony suffers from a sluggish first movement and what feels like scrappy playing in the intricate cross-patterns of the first movement. Things improve greatly for a tender Largo and a euphoric Allegro Vivo and Poco Allegro. At the time of first issue it was quite a project for a North-West of England orchestra and a conductor who had moved between EMI and Decca. Weller can be heard to even better advantage in this work on Fuga Libera where he conducts the National Orchestra of Belgium. However neither of these - good though they are - supplants Turnovsky’s classic version from the 1960s now on Warner Apex at an exceptionally attractive price.

Weller and the RLPO are even more successful in La Jolla whose middle movement is lush with the warm nostalgia of Czech countryside harvests. The sound of Kubelik’s Frescoes is analogue-hissy but we hear in this recording what was missing from the Liverpool sessions: an irrepressible zest for life and a pleasing tension. This is great Martinu.

The first three works on CD 2 are from a long-lived Virgin Classics CD. Hickox turns in good performances with the seemingly prophetic Double Concerto oppressively done – aptly so if again without the pile-driver thud of the Karel Sejna Supraphon inscription. More unusual at the time - and even now - is the String Quartet Concerto which is Martinu in his sometimes irritating neo-classical phase. It’s done by Hickox with vitality and in the case of the twilit central Adagio something even more eerily unsettling. The Sinfonia Concertante skips along in similar serenading vein – Haydn in modern dress. Metzmacher’s weightily brooding Lidice Memorial was part of his EMI project to mix Hartmann symphonies with works of Hartmann’s contemporaries. Lidice was the town in which the population was killed by the Nazis in revenge for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. The village was then razed to the ground. This Meditation seems imbued with the same spirit that sets light to RVW’s Sixth Symphony and can be seen as a post-war counterpart to the Double Concerto: awesome fulfilment as against oppressive prophecy. Towards the end the call-to-arms from Beethoven’s Fifth rings out in cordite-reeking irony.

Malcolm Hayes provides a snappy one page note which is also in German and French. There’s no mention of the Sinfonia Concertante.

Inexpensive Martinu in sound performances that have been about a bit.

Rob Barnett

Inexpensive Martinu in sound performances that have been about a bit.