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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Songs - Volume 1
see end of review for listing
Jana Wallingerová (mezzo)
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
rec. Koruni Studio, Prague, 15-17 March 2010. DDD
NAXOS 8.572588 [79:28]

Experience Classicsonline

Naxos have been good to Bohuslav Martinů: Giorgio Koukl has recorded his complete solo piano music in seven volumes and his five piano concertos in two; the Martinů Quartet have recorded his seven string quartets on three discs; Arthur Fagen and the Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra have recorded the six symphonies on three more; and Naxos have published seven other discs of chamber music, plus one of choral (The Epic of Gilgamesh). 

Naxos also issued a CD of songs by Martinů back in 2005 - see review - but then seemingly either had a change of heart or forgot about it, because this new release is billed as "Songs, volume 1". These are, however, new soloists, and all the pieces are different. Martinů wrote about 100 songs in total, so this is quite likely the first of three volumes.
There are forty-one separate songs in this recital. Though at a fraction under 80 minutes the disc is packed to the rafters with music, that still means an average of well under two minutes per song - in other words, these are not by any stretch substantial pieces, and it is fair to say that they are not among Martinů's most important or profound works. Indeed, around thirty per cent of these songs were written before Martinů was even 23.
There are four songs in French - three anonymous, one by composer Gustave Charpentier - and three in German, to texts of Goethe's. All the rest are in Czech, from a variety of sources - anonymous or folk texts, Czech poets and foreign writers in translation. Subject matter is extremely varied, and Martinů reflects that in his music, with humour, irony, tragedy, whimsy, bliss and melancholy, without ever resorting to cliché.
This is Czech mezzo-soprano Jana Wallingerová's debut CD. She has an agreeable, flexible voice which she controls well. She sings the three Goethe-Lieder with a little bit of an accent, whereas her French is more wayward - an acute-accented 'é' here and there, for example, where none should be - though not disastrously so. She is naturally most comfortable in Czech, and although none of the songs is fiendishly difficult, Martinů's immense imagination keeps her, Koukl and listeners all on their toes with a constant supply of unexpected chords, leaps and other musical twists and turns - all of which and more can be sampled together in the amusing Czech Riddles, H.277bis.
The song texts are not included in the booklet, but are downloadable for free as usual from the Naxos website. The translations are reasonably rendered on the whole, although some are less poetic than one might wish: "Tell me, Mother, what is it with people that they speak so ill of Friday? You are wise, so tell me, why do people shun the priest like doom?" "'Tis then we go tripping through woodland and grove." "Tell him he's stayed behind to water his lovely little horse."
The elaborate diacritics of Czech are present and correct in the booklet and the song texts, though the Naxos website itself remains a resolutely diacritic-free zone. There are some genuine mistakes in the song text file that should have been noticed by Naxos, however; not so much the odd typo, such as 'kioness' for 'lioness', but for example, in the third Goethe song, the adjective "holde" has been left untranslated, giving the rather dubious rendition: "Stay with me, holder stranger, sweet love". Likewise, the phrase "lebt der Himmel" ('lives the sky', i.e. 'the sky lives') has clearly been machine-translated to give "lives of the heavens", the German "der" having been nonsensically interpreted as a genitive plural form when it is obviously a masculine singular nominative. The second Goethe song has been wilfully mistranslated in order to make it rhyme in English - alders become willows, "murmuring streams" and "woodland and grove" appear from nowhere, a simple "dream" becomes a "midsummer night's dream".
Finally, there is a minor problem with the track numbering. The first 29 songs on the CD are listed correctly, as are those from 38 to the end. But what the back cover and song text file label as track 30, 'Song of November the First', is actually track 37 on the CD, so the CD is out of synch with the documentation for eight songs, with CD track 30 listed as track 31, CD track 31 listed as track 32 and so on. Sound quality is reasonably good.

Collected reviews and contact at
Track listing
6 Prostých Písní [Simple Songs], H.110
3 Ukolébavky [Lullabies], H.146bis
2 Písničky v Národním Slohu [2 Songs in the National Style], H.14
2 Písně na Ruskou Poezii [Songs on Russian Poetry], H. 135bis
3 Goethe-Lieder, H.94
Komárova Svadba [The Gnat's Wedding], H.75
3 Dětské Písničky [Children's Songs], H.146
Mrtvá Láska [Dead Love], H.44
České Hádanky [Czech Riddles], H.277bis
2 Písně [Songs], H.31
Kráčím, Kráčím mezi Vrchy (Walk, I Walk Among the Hills), H.74bis
Jak Milý Čas [How Dear the Hour], H.106
štěstí to Dost [Blissfulness Enough], H.81
Slzy (Vilmě) [Tears (Vilma)], H.41
Náladová Kresba [Mood Drawing], H.29
Píseň Prvního Listopadu [Song of November the First], H.72
Dívči Sny [A Girl's Dreams], H.22
Až Budeme Staří [When We are Old], H.10
Než se Naděješ [Before You Know it], H.6
Noc Každou tebe Drahá Zřím [Every Night in Dreams I See You], H.57
3 Písně na Francouzské Texty: no.3: La Nuit [Songs on French Texts: Night], H.88 no.3
Konec Všemu [The End of Everything], H.43
V Noci [At Night], H.30
Stará Píseň [Old Song], H.74
Píseň na Starošpanělský Text [Song on an Old Spanish Text], H.87
Píseň o Hubičkách [A Song about Kissing], H.27bis
Vím Hajíček Pěkný Zelený [I Know a Nice Green Grove], H.273








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