Notes and Editorial Reviews
A delectable survey of Martinu’s music for chamber ensemble.
The works on this disc offer a comprehensive overview of Martinu’s works for large chamber ensembles. They date from 1927 (La revue de cuisine) to 1959 (Chamber Music No. 1), the year of his death. The former requires clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano, violin, and cello, the latter clarinet, harp, piano, and string trio. Martinu’s Harpsichord Concerto is inventively scored for flute, bassoon, piano, three violins, viola, cello, and double bass. Les rondes (1930), one of his earliest explorations of his native Czech folk music (try the soulful music clip attached), is an unforgettably attractive suite of six dances scored for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet,
piano, and two violins.
All of this music has been recorded before, and quite well, but these performances rank with the best by and large. Conductor Klaus Simon paces each piece just about perfectly, and the members of the Holst-Sinfonietta lend their considerable virtuosity to Martinu’s consistently inventive writing. The single exception is Robert Hill’s harpsichord—not his playing of it, but rather the thin-toned timbre of the instrument itself, which fails to speak as strongly as it should even against this relatively tiny ensemble. It’s not a major defect, but it is noticeable, and it is not the fault of the engineering, which is basically excellent.
One attraction seriously worth considering is the fact that this disc contains the recently re-discovered complete version of the ballet La revue de cuisine. There’s not a lot more to add, only about six minutes in all, bringing the total to 20, but it’s such a fun piece that every extra minute is worth having. Conductor Simon contributes informative notes, but needs to double-check his dates. He calls the “Tango” in La revue de cuisine “a magnificent parody of Ravel’s Boléro,” and so it sounds. The only problem is that the Ravel wasn’t premiered until 1928, a year after La revue de cuisine was composed. Never mind: this is a mostly terrific disc of totally terrific music.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
It is curious that it took so long to issue this most delightful collection of Martinu works for chamber orchestra. After all, they were recorded in 2009, and there is not a dud among the twenty-two tracks. Martinu excelled in these small-scale works to a greater degree, I would say, than in the larger forms such as the symphonies. The program here is really varied and contains pieces from both ends of his career. The best known of these is surely the ballet, La revue de cuisine, except here for the first time we get the whole ballet instead of the usual four selections: Prologue, Tango, Charleston and Finale. This adds only an extra six minutes or so, but every one of them is delicious. Once heard in its entirety, the shorter suite will never seem adequate again. According to Klaus Simon, who not only conducts and plays piano on the CD but also provides the detailed notes, the complete score languished in the archive of the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basle, Switzerland. A reconstruction of the original was prepared and edited by Christopher Hogwood, who has specialized in Martinu’s music as well as that of earlier eras, in collaboration with Aleš Brezina and the Bohuslav Martinu Institute. Members of the Holst-Sinfonietta, which despite its name is a Freiburg-based ensemble, founded in 1996 by Klaus Simon with players from South Germany, perform the work to the manner born. It is scored for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano, violin and cello. The various soloists are superb throughout. Simon in his notes mentions the similarity of a theme in the Tango to Ravel’s Bolero, even going so far as to call it a “magnificent parody”. The only problem is that Martinu’s work pre-dates Ravel, though the likeness is there for all to hear! Undoubtedly it’s just a mere coincidence.
The other works are equally attractive. The disc begins with one of Martinu’s neo-baroque concertos, this one for harpsichord with other solo instruments in the manner of a concerto grosso. Yet the harpsichord is the dominant voice and at times reminds one of Bach’s keyboard concertos. It is a most tuneful and infectious piece and receives a fine performance from harpsichordist Robert Hill and the other musicians. The concerto is followed by one of the composer’s last works, the Chamber Music No. 1 for clarinet, harp, piano and string trio. It is more astringent than usual for Martinu and has rather dense textures which contrast with more folk-like passages in the first movement that have something of Copland’s Appalachian Spring about them, before returning to the dissonant themes that begin the movement. The second movement, marked Andante moderato, is gentler and more atmospheric, evoking the nocturne part of the subtitle. Near the start of the third movement there is a clarinet melody that pre-echoes a theme in John Adams’ Gnarly Buttons clarinet concerto. After that the tempo picks up and is more typical of Martinu in his happy, consonant mode, before the Adams-like clarinet makes its reappearance. The work ends on a light-hearted, positive note.
The third work on the CD may just be the most interesting and unusual of all. As Simon notes, Les rondes refers to the “round dances of the Russian chorovod”. He sees more of a similarity to Janácek than in other compositions of Martinu. To me, though, the work is much closer to the neo-classical Stravinsky with touches of French humor à la Milhaud or Poulenc. It is scored for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano and two violins. The way the violins interact with the trumpet and clarinet recalls Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat. The work is in six movements. In the second movement, Poco andantino, there is a phrase initially on oboe and then on the trumpet (starting at 2:40). The latter is a near quotation of the trumpet theme close to the beginning of the third movement in Janácek’s Capriccio. It’s then accompanied by a Petrushka-like squeezebox rhythm that serves as an underpinning. Les rondes is a delightful piece delectably performed here with its elements of jazz, Stravinskian dance rhythms and bi-tonality familiar from Milhaud. Yet, it all comes out in the end sounding like Martinu. It would make a fine addition to a chamber music concert and should be much better known.
The performances here are first rate as is the vibrant recorded sound. The instrumentalists all receive due recognition in the notes and it would be churlish of me to single out any one of them — such is the excellence of the ensemble. Furthermore, Klaus Simon clearly has the measure of Martinu’s music. This generously filled disc will appeal to all lovers of Martinu’s music. I look forward to hearing more from this ensemble in other music as well.
-- Leslie Wright, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Les Rondes, H 200 by Bohuslav Martinu
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1930; Czech Republic
La Revue de Cuisine by Bohuslav Martinu
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1927; Paris, France
Concerto for Harpsichord by Bohuslav Martinu
Robert Hill (Harpsichord)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1935; Czech Republic
Chamber Music no 1 for Clarinet, Harp and Piano Quartet by Bohuslav Martinu
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1959; Switzerland
Harpsichord Concerto, H. 246: I. Poco allegro
Harpsichord Concerto, H. 246: II. Adagio
Harpsichord Concerto, H. 246: III. Allegretto
Musique de chambre No. 1, H. 376: I. Allegretto moderato
Musique de chambre No. 1, H. 376: II. Andante moderato
Musique de chambre No. 1, H. 376: III. Poco allegro
Les rondes, H. 200: I. Poco allegro
Les rondes, H. 200: II. Poco andantino
Les rondes, H. 200: III. Allegro
Les rondes, H. 200: IV. Tempo di valse
Les rondes, H. 200: V. Andantino
Les rondes, H. 200: VI. Allegro vivo
La revue de cuisine, H. 161: Prologue: Allegretto
La revue de cuisine, H. 161: Introduction: Tempo di marche
La revue de cuisine, H. 161: Danse du moulinet autour du chaudron: Poco meno
La revue de cuisine, H. 161: Danse du chaudron et du couvercle: Allegro
La revue de cuisine, H. 161: Tango (Danse d'amour): Lento
La revue de cuisine, H. 161: Duel: Poco a poco allegro. Tempo di charleston
La revue de cuisine, H. 161: Entr'acte (Lamentation du chaudron): Allegro moderato
La revue de cuisine, H. 161: Marche funebre: Adagio
La revue de cuisine, H. 161: Danse radieuse: Tempo di marche
La revue de cuisine, H. 161: Fin du drame: Allegretto
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Small Scale Vintage Martinu May 12, 2013
By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews
"Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu's music is filled with innovation, experimentation, and even risk-taking, which is why his 20th century works continue to defy anyone who thinks Martinu's output is predictable. It is also one reason why this reviewer in particular finds Martinu's music so interesting and refreshing, regardless of the genre (chamber, symphony, concerto, solo instrumental, etc.) On this very nice new Naxos recording, we are treated to a full plate of quirky, acerbic, occasionally semi-dissonant, and even jazzy small-scale works, beautifully performed by the Holst Sinfonietta, a small German chamber ensemble. Two quick examples will serve to illustrate my opening comment. The disk's first work is the Concerto for Harpsichord and Small Orchestra, but in addition to the nominal solo instrument (the harpsichord), a modern piano is prominently featured, thus juxtaposing two keyboard instruments from different historical eras in a remarkable piece of music. I would also call attention to the final composition on the disk, Martinu's ingenious jazz balleet 'La Revue de Cuisine,' which centers on the antics of various kitchen implements. The Naxos sound is crystal-clear,pure, and perfectly complements Martinu's sparse orchestral scoring. This is not heavy music by any means, but it is thoroughly enjoyable, even infectious. Recommended for anyone interested in a truly unconventional approach to modern 'serious' music."