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Martinu: Chamber Works / Vokalkova, Artemiss Piano Trio

Release Date: 06/15/2010 
Label:  Arco Diva   Catalog #: 9811263  
Composer:  Bohuslav Martinu
Performer:  Zofie Vokálková
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artemiss Piano Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

MARTIn? Duo No. 2 for Violin and Cello. Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano. Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano. Bergerettes Artemiss Trio; Žofie Vokálková (fl) ARCODIVA C 597 091 B (75:33)

In Fanfare 34:4 I gave an enthusiastic review to a Naxos CD of chamber music for flute by Bohuslav Martin?. This disc partially overlaps the contents of that one, as each contains the sonata and trio—both among the composer’s Read more more frequently recorded pieces—but here the remaining works are the second of the two duos for violin and cello and the miscellany of five pieces for piano trio from 1939 that the composer dubbed Bergerettes (roughly translatable as “pastoral ditties”). As I discussed the first two items in some detail there, I will focus on the others here.

The first violin-cello duo, not presented here, is probably the more familiar one, by virtue of the high-profile recording made by Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky. One might think that it would be customary to record both duos together, but such is not the case, perhaps because they were composed almost 50 years apart, in 1909 and 1958. While each work currently has at least eight recordings in print, I can find only two CDs containing both, on the Bayer and Praga labels. Both also contain the second duet for violin and viola (again, why not the first as well?), but have different fillers. The second duo is cast in a traditional three-movement sequence. An opening Allegretto alternates more songlike and more agitated phrases in a triple meter; the succeeding Adagio is melancholic, almost dirge-like, with the meter shifting irregularly and uneasily; while a Poco allegro finale employs a succession of kaleidoscopic effects from a hurdy-gurdy style drone to agitated pizzicati to soaring lyrical phrases played in unison. The five Bergerettes are less varied in character; despite differing tempo designations ( Poco allegro–Allegro con brio–Andantino–Allegro–Moderato ) all but the brief fourth movement are cast in ternary forms with contrasting middle trio sections, and the agitated, propulsive thematic material of the first, second, and fifth movements is virtually identical.

While the quality of the present performances varies somewhat, this disc is of considerable interest and even importance for shedding a new interpretive light on the composer. As Martin? spent 18 years in France, including an early period of study with Albert Roussel, much of his music fuses Czech rhythms and harmonies with a French melodic and tonal palette in neoclassical forms, and most performances tend to accentuate the more elegant French aspects. Here, however, the Artemiss Trio unabashedly remakes Martin? over into a Bohemian peasant, with an unvarnished, tough, rustic roughness to its playing that emphasizes far more than usual a kinship to Janá?ek. This approach is an unqualified success in the duo and the Bergerettes . In a review in 33:4 of a recording of the latter pieces by the Kinsky Trio, Steven E. Ritter opined that “None of these are dazzling music, though there are moments when we feel a breakthrough is possible. I think that the Kinsky Trio Prague handles them as well as anyone could be expected to,” adding “I do wish for some more definition in their playing. However, I must also say that the more I listened the more I came to the conclusion that the perceived faults in the playing were not the trio’s, but Martin??s.” While the Bergerettes are indeed the least inspired pieces on this disc, I will dare to suggest that if Ritter heard the present invigorating performances he might revise his opinion, for by comparison the Kinsky Trio sounds positively pallid. Similarly, in comparing this performance of the duo to the version on the Bayer CD (the Praga was not available to me), the latter again offers a rendition that is far more smooth and cultivated but has considerably less character.

However, this rough-hewn folksiness is less successful in the sonata and trio, larger-scale works where fluidity of melodic line is a major desideratum. Here the Naxos performers I previously praised clearly have the advantage, as the Artemiss Trio members sound a bit lumpish by comparison; and while Žofie Vokálková is a fine flutist, she is simply not on the same plane of excellence as Fenwick Smith. Still, the contrast in performing styles is so great that the Martin? aficionado may want to have both recordings in a collection, in order to savor a side of the composer seldom offered. The recorded sound is clear and considerably less resonant than on the rival Naxos issue. Recommended then, both for a stimulating alternative take on Martin? in general and for the duo and the Bergerettes in particular.

FANFARE: James A. Altena


There's always a risk in a mixed chamber music program by Martinu that 70 or so minutes of relentless perkiness will grow tiresome, but the selection of pieces here has been well chosen. Actually, Martinu's slow movements are often unusually dark and reflective, so the relentless perkiness really concerns the quick movements, and the pieces with flute in particular. They're actually quite different in sound and structure: the Sonata has four movements, the Trio three, and the use of violin in the former and cello in the latter obviously has a huge impact.

Who but Martinu could have written two, count 'em, two splendid duo sonatas for violin and cello? His Second Duo doesn't have a moment where the textures sound too thin or the invention flags, while the piano trio consisting of the five Bergerettes is just plain adorable. So are these performances--alive to the music's every nuance. The string players spring the perpetually syncopated rhythms with flexibility, and their intonation is impeccable. Flute player Zofie Vokálková sports a limpid tone and does perky without turning cutesy. Really, this is a lovely disc, very well recorded, though ArcoDiva really needs to do something about its tacky cover art. Don't let that dissuade you.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Duo for Violin and Cello no 2, H 371 by Bohuslav Martinu
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artemiss Piano Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1958; Switzerland 
Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano, H 254 by Bohuslav Martinu
Performer:  Zofie Vokálková (Flute)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artemiss Piano Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; USA 
Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano in F major by Bohuslav Martinu
Performer:  Zofie Vokálková (Flute)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artemiss Piano Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; USA 
Bergerettes for Violin, Cello and Piano by Bohuslav Martinu
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artemiss Piano Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; Paris, France 

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