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Martinu: Complete Piano Music Vol 3 / Giorgio Koukl

Release Date: 08/28/2007 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8557919   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Bohuslav Martinu
Performer:  Giorgio Koukl
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 20 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Interpretative excellence once again from Koukl.

The third volume of Naxos' Martinu piano music cycle showcases the composer's mature style in what many consider to be his finest and most original works for the instrument. Both the hauntingly lyrical Sonata and volatile Fantaisie et toccata were written for Rudolf Firkusny, whose idiomatic, multi-hued RCA recordings retain their reference status. However, Giorgio Koukl's interpretations more than hold their own in such august company.

For example, while Toccata hardly lacks for rhythmic impetus, Koukl's intelligent melodic projection never allows the churning patterns to become percussive or mechanical. The pianist also puts musical considerations ahead of
Read more surface bravura in the delightful Etudes and Polkas. You'll notice how he gently differentiates the shifting accents in Book One's A major Polka, whereas Emil Leichner's faster tempo yields a few flustered moments. On the other hand, Leichner's hypnotic legato and remarkable melody/accompaniment separation in the same book's D major Etude and Pastorale and Book Three's A minor Etude linger more memorably in the ear than Koukl's relatively conventional pianism. And when it comes to the difficult single-note/chord leaps in Book Three's F major Etude, Leichner's leaner, quicker sharpshooting contrasts to Koukl's slower yet more dynamically conscientious interpretation.

Although I don't intend to give up Firkusny in the big works or Leichner's Etudes and Polkas, Koukl's stylish perception and tonal warmth serve Martinu proud, as do Naxos' fine sonics. Recommended.

--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com

The third volume of Giorgio Koukl’s survey of Martin?’s piano music is as successful as the previous two. In my review of the second disc of the series I described some of the differences between Koukl’s approach and that of Emil Leichner, whose Supraphon set of the piano music (not quite the complete piano music) has been something of a benchmark set for many years now. Koukl tends to etch rhythms with greater incision and Leichner tends to a greater sense of reflectiveness. This is certainly a crudely suggestive way of approaching these two important readings of the piano music but for the purposes of this review it does indicate the divergences of approach that both men bring to bear. It may also help direct you if you wish to follow one or the other – though of course there are a number of other discs by other pianists worthy of note.

The Sonata is the most important work here. Koukl is sensitive to the Poco allegro marking here whilst Leichner prefers to emphasise the Allegro rather at the expense of the poco. I suspect this is to mitigate what Leichner may have detected as structural problems and to vest the opening with a powerful drive so as to balance the concluding Adagio. Leichner certainly makes the most of the contrasts here, despite the relative speed, and though his overall timing is very similar to Koukl’s the distribution amongst the three individual movements is very different. Though Leichner manages to find light and shade in his opening movement Koukl’s greater deliberation pays dividends. And he finds just the right sense of starkness and deliberation in that powerful Adagio finale which he plays with gravity and singular intensity.

The depth of Koukl’s bass is palpable in the Fantasie et Toccata. Its immediacy is arresting and stresses the abrupt dynamism of the writing. Koukl’s playing here locates the imperturbable violence and threat in the writing – it was written in 1940 after all. This is a more intensive and tensile approach than Leichner’s rather more skittish neo-classicism, though one wouldn’t want to underestimate Leichner’s determined commitment to the bellicose writing. Koukl certainly brings the edginess and brittle attacks of the Toccata very much to the fore. This is valiant and perceptive playing indeed, emphasised by the very immediate nature of the studio recording.

After these two powerful and important statements we turn to the Etudes and Polkas – lighter fare written in 1945. These brief and expert pieces – none lasting longer than three minutes - bring out Koukl’s instinct for rhythmic vivacity and alluring tone. As one might expect he’s generally – not always but usually – faster than Leichner and this brings advantages in terms of terpsichorean vitality. Curiously Leichner feels the Pastorale of the First Volume rather faster than Koukl – I thought it would be the other way around. The three Czech Dances round off the programme and Koukl, Prague born, knows all about them. He can do the Obkro?ák with the best of them.

Interpretative excellence once again from Koukl - and so volume four is awaited with anticipation.

-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International

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Works on This Recording

Fantasie and Toccata for Piano, H 281 by Bohuslav Martinu
Performer:  Giorgio Koukl (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; France 
Length: 16 Minutes 53 Secs. 
Notes: Studio RSI, Lugano, Switzerland (01/12/2006); Studio RSI, Lugano, Switzerland (04/02/2006) 
Sonata for Piano, H 350 by Bohuslav Martinu
Performer:  Giorgio Koukl (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1954; Nice, France 
Length: 21 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Notes: Studio RSI, Lugano, Switzerland (01/12/2006); Studio RSI, Lugano, Switzerland (04/02/2006) 
Etudes and Polkas (16) for Piano by Bohuslav Martinu
Performer:  Giorgio Koukl (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; Czech Republic 
Length: 32 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Notes: Studio RSI, Lugano, Switzerland (01/12/2006); Studio RSI, Lugano, Switzerland (04/02/2006) 
Czech Dances (3) for Piano by Bohuslav Martinu
Performer:  Giorgio Koukl (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926; Czech Republic 
Length: 9 Minutes 26 Secs. 
Notes: Studio RSI, Lugano, Switzerland (01/12/2006); Studio RSI, Lugano, Switzerland (04/02/2006) 

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