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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959) Ariane, H370 (1958) [43:29]
Double Concerto for Piano, timpani and strings H271 (1938) [22:29]
Simona Šaturová (soprano), Zoltán Nagy (baritone), Baurzhan Anderzhanov (bass), Abdellah Lasri (tenor), Tiji Faveyts (bass) Ivo Kahánek (piano)
Soloists of the Aalto Theatre Choir, Essen Essener Philharmoniker/Tomás Netopil
rec. live 28-29 August 2014 (Double Concerto) and 8-9 October 2015 (Ariane), Alfred Krupp Saal, Philharmonie, Essen, Germany SUPRAPHON SU4205-2 [66:07]
Martinů’s Ariane is a one-act opera with a French libretto by the composer. It’s based on the 1943 play Le Voyage de Thésée by Georges Neveux, (who had supplied the libretto for the composer's earlier opera Julietta). Martinů composed Ariane in 1958 whilst working on his final opera, The Greek Passion – he described it in a letter to his family as ‘taking a rest’ from the larger work, and it took him just over a month. He had developed in those years a great admiration for the singing of Maria Callas, and, judging from the spectacular nature of some of Ariane’s music, he was perhaps privately hoping that she might be attracted to the part. That never happened, and in any case Martinů died barely a year after completing it, two years before the première in Gelsenkirchen.
It is an engaging little work, and in many ways its vivacious Neo-classical elements take us back to the 1920s of Les Six, and of Martinů’s own Revue de cuisine. The story of the opera is a re-telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur; the twist is that, when the Minotaur appears, he turns out to be the image of Theseus himself. The hero nonetheless slays the Minotaur, then deserts Ariadne, prompting her lament, a long and wonderful aria that brings the work to its end.
The role of Ariane herself is sung here by the brilliant Slovakian soprano Simona Šaturová, a great choice for the part, as that concluding aria really calls for a dramatic soprano with a big voice and an enormous range. She does however also have a wide and intense vibrato, very much in the Eastern European tradition, and which some listeners will find hard to cope with. I confess I don’t entirely care for that aspect of her voice, though for me there is ample compensation in her deeply expressive singing; indeed, the big final aria is done so superbly, I would suggest, as to make this issue worth buying for that alone. It includes not only some wonderfully floated pianissimo singing, but some spectacular coloratura work, including a sparkling high D# thrown off with nonchalant ease.
The other roles are nowhere near so demanding, but both Zoltán Nagy and Baurzhan Anderzhanov, as Theseus and the Minotaur respectively, sing well. The conductor, Tomás Netopil draws alert and stylish playing from his orchestra, and the Sinfonias of the three scenes, with their strong hints of folk music, are beautifully done. There are many delightful touches of orchestration, most memorably the ending of the opera, with piano and glockenspiel reminding us very softly of the opera’s opening music.
The other work on the CD is an established masterpiece, possibly Martinů’s best-known work. The Double Concerto was written in 1938, and is one of the most remarkable expressions of the tense, haunted mood of Europe in those days. This is a fine, powerful performance, unusual in the sense that the recorded balance brings the piano into far greater prominence than we are used to. The solo part is played splendidly by Ivo Kahánek, and this is certainly a very strong contender, though I would still give my vote to the Chandos recording with Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic.