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Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Violin Concerto (1950/1) [32:22]
Esquisse pour orchestre (1920) [13:38]
Svetlin Roussev (violin)
Orchestre de Chambre de Genève/Arie van Beek
rec. January 2020, Studio Ernest Ansermet, Geneva
CLAVES CD3017 [46:00]

Frank Martin's Violin Concerto belongs to a handful of works written at about the same time as the opera Der Sturm (1952/5), available on Hyperion CDA67821/3 reviewed here, which also includes the choral setting Five Songs of Ariel (1950) and the Harpsichord Concerto (1951/2). All these works obviously share the same vein of fantasy as displayed in the opera. The Violin Concerto is no exception, for one may even spot some thematic material and instrumental colours clearly connected to the opera. Moreover, Frank Martin's Violin Concerto is a magnificent example of the composer's mature lyrical writing and is undoubtedly one of his most endearing achievements. It goes without saying that the composer wrote the concerto on a grand scale and it takes a seasoned soloist to carry the weight of the material during the entire course of the piece. The writing for the soloist is exacting but not overtly virtuosic, although it nevertheless calls for considerable stamina on the player's part. As far as I am concerned, I find Roussev's reading perfectly assured and with much imaginative playing and he delivers a most convincing reading of what I find (and I repeat myself) one of Martin's most endearing masterpieces. After listening to this disc, I wondered if there were many recordings of it, as I for one discovered it played by Wolfgang Schneiderhan in a performance conducted by the composer on a now deleted Candide LP that has been made available later on a Jecklin Disco JD 632-2 that may still be available (reviewed here). Schneiderhan had also recorded the Violin Concerto with Ernest Ansermet (now available on Eloquence 482 4997 review). However, there are only a few modern recordings of it that may be singled out: Michael Erxleben with the Orchester Musikkollegium Winterthur conducted by Jac van Steen (MDG 60101280-2 review) and Baiba Skride with the BBCNOW conducted by Thierry Fischer (Orfeo C 849 121 A review).

The release under review, however, is most welcome and all fans of Frank Martin's music will be made happy by the inclusion of a somewhat early piece for small orchestra to which the composer does not seem to have attached any particular attention and which thus remained collecting dust either on the composer's shelves or in one long-forgotten drawer. The Esquisse pour orchestre was completed in 1920 and first performed soon afterwards by Ernest Ansermet. This is one of those early works that have lain dormant for years, such as the very fine, though uncharacteristic, Trois poèmes païens (1910) recorded by José Van Dam some years ago and the short Pavane couleur du temps (1920), the latter enjoying the occasional hearing. (It has been recorded recently on Guild GMCD 7342 played by the Camerata Zürich conducted by Marc Kissóczy review.) Although much more characteristic of Martin's music-making than, say, the aforementioned Trois poèmes païens, the short Esquisse shows that the composer was then still unsure as to the direction he was to follow. Nevertheless, the music in Esquisse already shows a new stylistic orientation, pointing in the direction of some French Impressionism rather than some increased inclination towards German Post-Romanticism. It also displays some characteristic humour and some lightness of touch that one does not tend to associate with Frank Martin but which is undeniably there, as La nique à Satan (1928/32) makes clear.

Both works recorded here receive superb performances and Svetlin Roussev has the full measure of the exacting violin part, clearly possessing the technique and the musicality to do such heart-warming music proud.

I will however “grumble” about the shamefully short total playing time, leaving room for the inclusion of some short orchestral works which have been hitherto left unrecorded.

Hubert Culot

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