Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano H.254 (1937) [16:26]
Sonata for Flute and Piano H.306 (1945) [17:35]
Madrigal Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano H291 (1942) [9:01]
Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano H.300 (1944) [19:24]
Agata Igras-Sawicka (flute), Bartłomiel Nizioł (violin), Marcin Zdunik (cello), Mariusz Rutkowski (piano)
rec. Witold Lutosławski Polish Radio Concert Hall, Warsaw, Poland, January, March, August, 2010
DUX 0768 [62:16]
For me Martinů has the most distinctive voice of any composer in history in that I can identify his music more easily and more speedily than any other. His individual musical ‘signature’ makes him highly attractive as a composer. He was one of my great discoveries when I worked in Prague in the late 1970s and I came back to the UK with a large number of records of music by him and added to them during each subsequent visit. However, should I wish to obtain everything he wrote it would be a tough call as he produced almost 400 works. The son of a shoemaker, bell-ringer and part-time fire warden, he was born and lived in the church tower of St Jacob’s church in Polička, a small town in Bohemia, close to the Moravian border. The people of his home town must have been highly incensed, when, having raised sufficient money to send him to study at the Prague Conservatory he was expelled for “incorrigible negligence” after four years, caused mainly due to his refusal to attend lectures that he considered far too rigid in their dry pedagogy, preferring to learn by himself. Leaving his country in 1923 he headed for France where he continued his studies with Albert Roussel and, when the Wehrmacht were close to Paris early in World War 2 he left and ended up in New York in 1941, where he spent the next twelve years writing many works, including his six symphonies.
The four compositions on this disc are very typical of Martinů and are delightful and highly successful with his characteristic ‘joie de vivre’ evident at every turn. In the Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano of 1937 his recognisable voice is immediately to the fore with all three instruments sounding very “bird like”, setting up a fast pace right from the off and each equally sharing the tunes. When I use the phrase ‘joie de vivre’ I don’t mean that Martinů lacks a serious side but the second movement is a reflective rather than a sad adagio and the mood soon returns to sunny in the third movement which returns to the themes of the first, even though it too has some serious moments. The final movement marked moderato also has a staid aspect but is generally happy sounding and the piece ends on an optimistic and upbeat note. The Sonata for Flute and Piano of 1945 again begins with Martinů’s trademark sound with a dialogue between the two instruments that is both beautiful and playful at the same time. It sounds like two children playing a game of ‘catch me if you can’. The adagio strikes a sombre note with a lovely main theme carried by the flute though there is plenty for the piano to do with some powerful statements from it around two minutes in, after which they both share the theme. This sonata is the only one of its type Martinů wrote and it enjoys the position as one of the most popular and frequently performed chamber works for the flute of the last century alongside works such as those by Poulenc and Prokofiev. The third and final movement, so the booklet informed me, has its roots in a summer holiday in Cape Cod where Martinů heard a whippoorwill, an American nightjar, calling all night. It is clearly represented throughout in the movement’s happy and joyful tone.

The Madrigal Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano is a short two movement work and was composed to celebrate a specific event - the 20th anniversary of the League of Composers in New York. Coming shortly after his First Symphony and not long after he had arrived in the USA it was performed as soon as it was completed. Martinů was a sought after composer right from the beginning of his stay in America enjoying greater success than many others who had fled the Nazi onslaught in Europe. Madrigals had exerted a musical influence right from the 1920s when he attended a concert of English madrigals in Prague. The inspiration the madrigal permits is evident in several other of his compositions which include the word in their titles (Madrigals-Four Pieces for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon (1938), Eight Madrigals for Mixed Voices (1939) and Four Madrigals for Mixed Voices (1959)). The sonata is a beautifully, perfectly formed and highly satisfying work which has a songlike quality that highlights its influence from that renaissance form. The middle section of the second movement is interesting for its jazzy piano accompaniment.

Commissioned by Martinů’s flautist friend from Paris days René Le Roy, the Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano of 1944, and the final work on the disc, is light and happy sounding with cleverly concealed overtones of Czech and Moravian folk music. Only the central movement involves a more reflective tone. The American critic Virgil Thomson wrote that “It is a gem of bright sound and cheerful sentiment; it does not sound like other ‘music’”. It is interesting to note that Martinů’s music divides people between those who criticise him for being “derivative” while others stoutly defend him as incredibly inventive displaying a boundless energy that made him the most prolific of Czech composers. Jiří Bělohlávek, principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra says "I think the richness of styles in Martinů's work is due to his inextinguishable thirst for novelty and inspiration, and his ability to extract from many sources the right amount of elements into his own musical language. Martinů is also probably the most prolific Czech composer and, of course, you can find different levels of genius among them. But at his best, he is irresistibly original, cosmopolitan and Czech in one stroke." That certainly explains why I enjoy his music so much and one can only say that for those who don’t it is their loss. This is a great disc and the young Polish musicians clearly find an affinity with the music and the flautist Agata Igras-Sawicka and pianist Mariusz Rutkowski give particularly fine performances. This will give boundless enjoyment to any lover of Martinů’s music and I would urge any who are unsure to try it too - they will also find musical gems here.
Steve Arloff 

Will give boundless enjoyment to any lover of Martinů’s music and I would urge any who are unsure to try it too - they will also find musical gems here.