This disc had “instant cutout” written all over it from the day that it was issued. How was anyone at Decca/Universal going to promote a “hard core” classical release featuring three contemporary works by three different composers, never mind that they were intelligently programmed, as well as fabulously played and recorded? I mean, they had The Three Tenors to worry about, right? This disc doesn’t even have an evocative title, like “Slavic Seduction,” or “Down on the Danube,” or something like that.
Even with regard to the single piece with a major solo part, Janácek’s remarkable Capriccio for Piano Left Hand and Very Strange Ensemble (piccolo, flute, two trumpets, threeRead more trombones, and tenor tuba), the opportunity to get a “name” artist seems to have slipped by–not that many of them play the work, mind you. The actual soloist is Joela Jones, who isn’t even named on the booklet cover or tray card, and she’s as good as anyone who has ever recorded the piece.
Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta has always been something of a Dohnányi specially. He played it at the concert that closed Carnegie Hall before its last big renovation (with Isaac Stern doing the Beethoven Violin Concerto), and his recording is one of the great ones. The first and third movements, while on the slower side, are wonderfully sustained and atmospheric. More importantly, he really digs into the quick second and fourth movements, at times approaching Bartók’s almost never-honored sectional timings. Listen to the beautiful balances between pizzicato strings, harp, piano, and percussion in the second movement, the entire episode comprising a perfectly shaped arc of sound. This is certainly one of the reference recordings of this modern masterpiece.
The Martinu Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra serves as the ideal intermediary between the Bartók and Janácek pieces. It’s one of his “concerto grosso” essays from the Paris period in the early 1930s, the first in a long line to come, and its motor rhythms and spiky harmonies, at times approaching Bartók in the brooding central slow movement, have a compelling attraction all their own. This may be a difficult disc to find, although Arkivmusic.com happily offers it “on demand,” but it deserves a home in every serious collection both for its intelligence and musical excellence. It’s a minor miracle that it got made in the first place.
Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestraby Bohuslav Martinu Performer:
Stephen Geber (Cello),
Robert Vernon (Viola),
Bernhard Goldschmidt (Violin),
Daniel Majeske (Violin)
Christoph von Dohnányi
Period: 20th Century Written: 1931; Czech Republic
Capriccio for Piano left hand and Winds "Defiance"by Leos Janácek Performer:
Michael Sachs (Trumpet),
Joshua Smith (Flute),
Mary Kay Fink (Piccolo),
Joela Jones (Piano),
Allen Kofsky (Tenor Tuba),
Steven Witser (Trombone),
James DeSano (Trombone),
David Zauder (Trumpet)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1926; Brno, Czech Republic