Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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The orchestral series on CHANDOS from London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Matthias Bamert (recorded 1993-1995).



With a name like Frank Martin you might innocently leap to the conclusion that Martin is yet another British composer. In fact Martin (whose name is approximately pronounced Fronk Martan) was born in French-speaking Geneva, the tenth child of a Calvinist family.

He had no conservatoire training being privately-taught by one Joseph Lauber. He developed quickly as both pianist and composer. At the age of ten he heard Bach's Matthew Passion - a watershed experience witness his choral writing. In 1918 he met the conductor Ernest Ansermet who leavened this Protestant Alpine stream with Mediterranean doses of fraîcheur from Debussy and Ravel. Later he taught rhythmic theory at the Dalcroze Institute before a move to the Netherlands and ultimately to Köln Conservatory. His music found some welcome in the 1940s but struggled against the atonal spirit of the times during the 1950s to 1970s.


Der Sturm (1954) - Overture; Mein Ariel, hast du, der Luft nur ist; Ein feierliches Lied
Hin sind meine Zauberei'n
Maria-Triptychon (1968)
Six Monologues from Jedermann (Everyman) (1943)

Linda Russell (sop)
David Wilson-Johnson (bar)
Duncan Riddell (violin)
London PO/Matthias Bamert.
rec Blackheath Concert Halls, London 26-27 Sept 1994
CHANDOS CHAN 9411 [68.22]

The Tempest, not surprisingly, holds a magical enchantment for composers. Martin's music for Der Sturm (drawn from an opera on Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' and following, in a continuous setting, the translation by A W von Schlegel) fulfils high hopes. Its translucent murmur (Eugene Goossens By The Tarn), its otherworldliness (Holst's Neptune), its dash and explosive assaults, its anger - all these are only undermined by a vocal part of protesting declamation. The work comes full circle at the close in a quiet instrumental murmur.

Maria Triptychon was written for wife and husband Irmgard Seefried and Wolfgang Schneiderhan (whose fine recording of the Martin violin concerto is on Decca). Seefried and Schneiderhan's recording of the triptych is on Jecklin Disco mono JD645-2. The style of the work is one of acid tenderness with the orchestra back-dropping the two principal players. An insistent violin solo dances in dependent adoration (as a pilot fish to a shark) around the voice as its tracks through the 'trois parties' of Ave Maria; Magnificat; Stabat Mater. The violin line's contentment drinks reverentially from the same source as the Beethoven violin concerto. Such serenity cannot be matched by the vocal part. The violin acts as a continually-in-motion 'sheet anchor'. The violin can express neurotic irritation as well but serenity is in the dominant.

The Jedermann music encompasses in its Bergian lyricism the slow mournful spell of the bassoon and the rhythmic grimoire such a hallmark of Welsh composer, Grace Williams. The male singer produces an effect recalling Das Lied von der Erde. This is astringent music with a hint of alkali corrosive about it. Frank sets Hugo von Hoffmansthal's words from the play 'Jedermann'.

Both the Jederman and the Der Sturm extracts have been recorded before by the Berlin Phil conducted by the composer on DG 20th Century Classics 429 858-2GC.

Triptychon stands out in this company though reputedly not effacing memories of Seefried and Schneiderhan's 1960s recording.

Rob Barnett

Ballade for Piano and Orchestra (1939)
Ballade for Trombone, Piano and String Orchestra (1939)
Ballade for Cello and Small Orchestra (1949)
Ballade for Saxophone and Orchestra (1938)
Ballade for Viola, Wind, Harp, Harpsichord and Percussion (1972)
Ballade for Flute, Piano and String Orchestra (1939)

Celia Chambers (flute)
Martin Robertson (sax)
Ian Bousfield (trombone)
Philip Dukes (viola)
Peter Dixon (cello)
Roderick Elms (piano/harpsichord)
Rachel Masters (harp)
London PO/Matthias Bamert.
Rec Goldsmiths College, London 4-6 Jan 1994
CHANDOS CHAN 9380 [76.48]

The collection of Ballades is, for me, the 'Prince' among these five Chandos discs. Substantial single movement essays provide an ideal medium for Martin's Lutheran-tempered (if not subdued) voice. When he uses voices (especially solo singers) he can tend towards an unvariegated recitative as the story is told. This can infer monotony. The Piano Ballade is typically subtle with overtones of Ravel and a dramatic smash and swing to its finale. The Trombone accentuates the chansonnier rather than the buffoon in its short and lyrical episode.

Do not look for an unbridled ecstasy in Martin. His religious convictions (manifest in the music) do not permit the sort of religious exaltation that crosses the divide into fleshly joys. Martin might thus be compared to Herbert Howells but a Howells with a sombre Gallic accent and purged of the Delian abandon that shakes the rafters and galleries in Missa Sabrinensis and Hymnus Paradisi.

The Cello Ballade could easily partner Edmund Rubbra's Soliloquy and Nicolas Flagello's Capriccio (1962) both for cello and orchestra. It is given a rhythmic jolt by an ostinato that Martin may have encountered in Sibelius's Nightride and Sunrise. The shades are Dutch Master ochres and are perfectly matched to the natural tones of the cello and its inclination to profundity and wonder.

The tightly bunched French tone of the solo in the Saxophone Ballade is contrasted with string writing taking us to the chillier passages in Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony. The Viola Ballade's accents are oriental with a dash of Stravinsky along the way - perhaps a linkage with Pribaoutki and the Japanese Songs. The neatly chiselled Flute Ballade adopts a Ravel-like approach and mixes it with the engaging chatter of Nielsen's Flute Concerto.

Decca have recorded some of the Ballades before. Those for Piano, Trombone, Saxophone and Flute are coupled with the Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion and Strings on Decca 444 455-2DH. The Royal Concertgebouw are conducted by Riccardo Chailly. The solo team includes some of the most celebrated virtuosos of the age including John Harle and Christian Lindberg as well as Roland Brautigam.

The fact is however that Chandos have the most natural and generous of couplings and this and the inherent musical values of the music and its performance make this a preferred choice.

Rob Barnett


In Terra Pax (1944)
Les Quatre Éléments (1964)

Judith Howarth (sop)
Della Jones (con)
Martyn Hill (ten)
Roderick Williams (bar)
Stephen Roberts (bass)
Brighton Festival Chorus
London PO/Matthias Bamert.
Rec Blackheath Concert Halls, London 15-16 Nov 1995
CHANDOS CHAN 9465 [67.04]


The musical portraits of The Four Elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire) are delineated by Martin as a sallow drama played in dark or darkening pastels. The composer's sobriety sets the bounds for his imaginative approach. There is none of the uproar and delirium to be found in Holst's music for the Elements in his opera The Perfect Fool. Even so the aquamarine seas and dark inky swirl are well put across pretypifying (by only one year and presumably quite innocently) the early pages of Nystroem's Sinfonia del Mare. The work has been recorded before by the Concertgebouw with Bernard Haitink on Preludio PRL2147.

In Terra Pax was the work that first drew me towards Martin. This was in the Ansermet/Decca version. It recreates apocalyptic visions of peace achieved through loss and suffering as well as visions of ignorant armies clashing by night. Bamert's quartet of singers is generally strong, and render the original French idiomatically. In a 'head to head' I would still prefer the Ansermet for the emotional cauldron it stirs. In Terra Pax was written to mark the looming end of the Second World War. Martin commented on how he rushed to complete the work seemingly racing the Allied advance. The Chandos voices are presented across the soundstage in a well contrived spread. While there are some pages of, what I will call Martin's, Protestant recitative (usually given to solo singers) there is some truly luminous writing for the massed choral forces. This is evocative of the Great Carillon of Christmas; indeed bell effects run through this work. If you do not know the piece think in terms (if you know it - as yet no commercial recording) of Peter Racine Fricker's A Vision of Judgement and Franz Schmidt's Book of the Seven Seals.

Second only to the Ballades disc this remains a strong contender in the Martin-Chandos stakes.

Rob Barnett

Concerto for seven wind instruments, percussion and strings (1949)
Erasmi Monumentum (1969)
Etudes for string orchestra (1956)

London PO/Matthias Bamert
rec Goldsmiths College, London 9-10 July 1993
CHANDOS CHAN 9283 [66.49]

The Concerto for seven wind instruments, percussion and strings [21.29] was premiered in 1949 and in its pawky humour owes somewhat to Stravinsky. The soloists imbue it with its full meed of character. I single out Celia Chambers for her delightful way with the flute part bringing out its relation with the Nielsen Flute Concerto. Philip Tarlton's bassoon serenading is chortled with great style. Ravel's Valse flickers alight at 5.23 in the Allegro but the second movement (typically of calmer character), in fact, is quite troubled among the undoubted elegance. A sour darker note recalls Kurt Weill's wind writing. The Allegro Vivace is lively and the trumpet's roulades even suggest a Genevan Arnold but there is yielding emotion as well as an anxious glance cast over the shoulder. Nightmares from the last war were still alive. The work was premiered in 1949.

The Studies for String Orchestra (1956) [20.47] was given its first performance by the insatiable Paul Sacher many of whose commissioned works have formed mainstays of the repertoire. This work is clean of line, troubled, varied and severe. There is a flighty tranquillo, a grandly satisfying pizzicato (brilliantly recorded by Chandos) seeming to picture an orchestra of wavering balalaikas in Spanish dress. The Allegro giusto is limber but does not give way to any overt romance.

Erasmi Monumentum (1969) is scored for organ and orchestra. The title reference is to Erasmus. The Homo pro se movement takes its title from the name by which Erasmus was known by his contemporaries. Dignified and slowly swelling its clean yet unglamorous counterpoint builds steadily. The organ comments discreetly and ending all in an ocean of calm. The Stulticiae Laus is almost knockabout - cackling and goading along the way. Querela Pacis (plea for peace) does not shrink from protest but its resolves into tranquillity. This was written, presumably, as a response to Vietnam.

The recording quality is in the reliably pellucid Chandos house style for the 1990s. This is an indispensable series neatly flanked by Richard Langham Smith's notes.

These works are not similarly coupled on any other disc.

Rob Barnett

Symphonie concertante (1945)
Symphony (1937)
Passacaglia (1944)

London PO/Matthias Bamert
Rec Goldsmith's College 26-27 September 1993
CHANDOS CHAN 9312 [67.17]

The four movement Symphony [31.45] is a work dating from two years before the outbreak of the Second World War. It has something in common with the Second Symphony of Kurt Weill though being less gawky and, at one level, a more tranquil work. The premiere was given in Martin's native Geneva under the baton of Ernest Ansermet but rapidly dropped out of the picture so far as concert-hall attention was concerned. The work is inflected by a user-friendly brand of serialism but the inflection is pretty gentle. The saxophone rises from time to time out of the aural fabric as also do the two pianos played by Roderick Elms and Ian Watson. Voice spotting: along the way splashes of Stravinsky and Ravel but nothing to tempt you to slate the piece as hollowly derivative. The Largo is cool, candid, subtle, of great emotive moment, reflective and providing a secure centre of gravity for the work. The music grows noticeably brighter (more candle-power) as it proceeds. The rush and scrimmage of the scherzo still finds room for the lyrical side illumined by vibraphone. The finale's opening shudder and piano display recalls Martinu's Concerto for piano and double string orchestra. The clarinet's capering banshee rolls take us back to Kurt Weill territory with hints also of Peter Mennin.

The much more famous Symphonie Concertante is a product of 1945 and yet another Paul Sacher commission. There are several competing recordings. The present recording is of the version for large orchestra - a version prepared in 1946 from the Petite Symphonie. This work with its almost surreptitious lyrical stance, its Bachian twists, and a string-band tread redolent of Roy Harris, serious mien, its climax-building using qualities familiar from Khachaturian and Grace Williams. There is a snappy Ravelian crackle and spit in the contrasting Allegretto.

The Passacaglia has the same serious set to the jaw. Its relationship to Bach is patent (4.48). Slatey and reticent lyrically speaking it is a work of great concentration and unity. Something of Edmund Rubbra's reserve hangs over its pages. Its little rippling motivic springs and slow string band flourishes (especially the latter) take us deep into the pages of Rubbra Fourth Symphony and even into Franz Schmidt's Second and Fourth Symphonies. In an unhackneyed concert programme it would partner well with Constant Lambert's similarly unconsidered Music for Orchestra (1927) and the single movement First Symphony of John Veale.

The most intriguing and challenging of the Chandos Martin discs.

Rob Barnett



The look and feel of these five discs is considered, somehow four-square with the music; displaying all the accustomed Chandos prestige values. The covers take burnished ochre and blue slate detail from oils by Odile Redon.


The five Chandos CDs (all products of the 1990s) are at full price. As yet there is no sign of a mid-price box or further instalments. One half expects Chandos to come out with recordings of the concertos and the other major choral or vocal works like Golgotha, Requiem and Le Vin Herbé. Currently there is no reason to believe that this will happen.

Outside the Chandos full price series there are other Martin CDs worth considering. The foremost is the Decca twofer (Decca 448 264-2) which includes the Septet Concerto, Etudes, Petite Symphonie and Passacaglia (all Karl Munchinger's Stuttgart tapes) with the Violin Concerto (Wolfgang Schneiderhan) and In Terra Pax. These latter are conducted by Ansermet with the Suisse Romande. The soloists in In Terra Pax are Ursula Buckel, Marga Höffgen, Ernst Haefliger, Pierre Mollet and Jakob Stämpfli - a strong team. This collects stereo and mono recordings (only the Passacaglia is mono) from the 1950s and 1960s including some true classics.

At the same price level the Warner Ultima series (3984-24237-2) couples Golgotha (a rare item) with the a cappella Mass. Golgotha (sung in German rather than the native French) is also available from VENGO 21.401.

We must not forget the Swiss company Jecklin that connoisseur among CD labels. They offer an historic but very strong stereo of Le Vin Herbé. This is on Jecklin-Disco JD 581/2-2 (2 CDs). This is a reissue of the 1961 Westminster 2LP set XWN-2232. Victor Desarzens conducts with 12 solo singers (including Eric Tappy, Helen Morath, Heinz Rehfuss), an ensemble of seven strings from the Winterthur Stadtorchester and the composer as pianist. A lean recording of an authoritative interpretation. There is, I believe, a much more recent recording on Dutch Philips (not heard by me).

A Suisse Romande radio tape of the Lausanne premiere was the source of Jecklin's recording of the Requiem (Jecklin-Disco JD631-2). As a work this must be counted in the same master category as In Terra Pax. This is conducted by the composer in a performance that burns luminous and bright.

There are other collections on Deutsche Grammophon (Fiescher Dieskau in Jedermann and Der Sturm) and Decca. These will be well worth exploring.

The two Jecklins and the German language Golgotha have been reviewed here before. If you use the site search engine you will find the reviews easily.

The Chandos series complements these various releases rarely overlapping completely (even the Decca collection of Ballades omits works included on the Chandos disc.

There is much still to come. It would be good to hear the complete Der Sturm as well as Poèmes de la Mort for three voices and three electric guitars (1971), the cantata Pilate, Pseaumes de Genève (mixed choir, children's voices and orchestra) La Mystère de la Nativité (an oratorio), and the Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke - a work for high voice and orchestra - effectively an hour long song cycle.

Reviews from previous months

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