A welcome return to these scintillating early scores that hardly show their age
This year sees many composer anniversaries, but alongside Handel, Mendelssohn, Haydn and Purcell stands Martinu, who died 50 years ago. I know that Supraphon have grand plans for Martinu year and this is a worthy addition to any celebration. Belohlávek and his forces bring out a hypnotic sense of the mystical in these works, whetting the appetite for what may be to follow.
-- Gramophone [3/2009]
This is early Martin?. These three works, comprising two fragile song-cycles and a passionate patriotic cantata, were written between the ages of 22 and 34. The Martin? we know from the Parisian and American years peeps through only rarely but the music itself is very attractive even if not yet fully personal.
Nationalism has had a bad press … and no wonder but the fervour of Sibelius and Smetana and Vaughan Williams is acceptable. Martin?’s Czech Rhapsody H118 is a very different work from the same titled piece for violin and piano H307 written 27 years later and then dedicated to Kreisler. H118 is a sort of discursive extended Finlandia with play being made of the St Wenceslas Chorale – a melody also used to great effect by Josef Suk in his War Triptych. The Martin? piece sometimes shares that mood. The music radiates sincerity and utter dedication. The strings of the Prague Symphony sing out laden with an almost Russian passion. The musical style veers between Brahms, Suk and Strauss. Indeed the rhapsodic-episodic nature of the score recalls the larger-scale tone poems of Richard Strauss. There is a long orchestral prelude in which the harp detailing registers with great sensitivity. The harp is prominent later where it seems to serve as a recollection of antique times. The choir enters at 9:40 and the singing whether choral or solo by the admirable Kusnjer is saturated with zeal. It often presents as an unwavering wild-eyed patriotic liturgy. At 16:20 we suddenly get a brief presentiment of the mature Martin? style but it comes and goes very quickly. Kusnjer has a long solo exposure from 24:00 to 29:17 when the choir re-enter with full orchestra. They carry the spoils of victory with just a hint of barbarism. There is also a gritty violence in the organ solos – the same spirit to be found in the flaming fury of the organ solos in Janá?ek’s Glagolytic Mass. By the way this work is in a single 36 minute track which is a criticism. Although played continuously it would have been good to have had some other entry points.
By contrast Nipponari is sensuous, minimalistic in instrumentation and reminiscent of Ravel in Shéhérazade or the Chansons Madécasses. It’s for a chamber orchestra with soprano – a part luminously taken her by Dagmar Pecková. The orchestra is used like a palette drawing off many slender, distinct and poetic lines. Listen to how the harp is used as a heart-beat or pulse. You hear that pulse in Old Age providing a backdrop to the viola’s gentle long-breathing line. The instrumental weave is subtle and in A Memory recalls the Introduction and Allegro and Ma Mère l’Oye. The vocal line is clearly affected by the work of Chausson and Duparc. Footsteps in the Snow strangely echoes RVW in I Got Me Flowers from the Mystical Songs. RVW was partial to Ravel as we know from his On Wenlock Edge. Other references would include the songs of Czeslaw Marek. In The Blue Hour which ends in a gentle doffing of the hat, there are moments of Straussian-Szymanowskian luxuriance. While Nipponari is pointillistic except for its last two songs, the more substantial Magic Nights makes more generous use of heavier orchestral textures. ?ubica Rybárska is a fine and romantic advocate for these honeyed songs.
It is delightful to welcome these recordings back from late LP format or early and long-deleted Denon-based CDs. Delightful, yes but also fascinating and that fascination is supported by good programme notes in idiomatic English.
-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International