The only serious competition for this disc, the final installment in Hyperion's splendid four-volume survey of Martinu's complete music for solo violin and orchestra, comes from Josef Suk's classic Supraphon versions with this same orchestra under Vaclav Neumann. There is very little to choose between them, as both are excellent, but collectors may well want to hear these pieces in finely balanced digital sound. Jennifer Koh's recording of the Second Concerto on Cedille, coupled to works by Szymanowski and Bartók, is also first-rate and worth consideration.
This release is desirable not only for Bohuslav Matoušek's total identification with Martinu's idiom--his rhythmic confidence, technical security (especially in high positions), and a lyrical sweetness that never turns cloying (in both slow movements)--but also for the crisp, snappy playing of the Czech Philharmonic under Christopher Hogwood, arguably today's preeminent Martinu conductor (how about a symphony cycle, Hyperion?). These two works aren't just two of the 20th century's best violin concertos; they also offer a perfect synopsis of the composer's mature style.
The First Concerto is a brash, spiky piece in Martinu's "concerto grosso" mode, pitting the violin against small instrumental groups--including percussion--in every imaginable combination with unflagging rhythmic verve. The Second Concerto, written in the U.S. for Misha Elman, adopts a more lyrical idiom, with plenty of "golden age" Romantic virtuosity built in as well. Both are essential, as is this whole series. What a pleasure it is to see labels taking on and completing interesting, rewarding, and ambitious projects like this with such distinction. Bravo!
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com