These are very recommendable recordings
of much of Martinů's solo piano
music. Kaspar lacks nothing in brilliance.
He also has the imagination and digital
dexterity to conjure that buoyant delight
that only the finest Martinů adherents
can find and project. His playing is
sprightly and just at times relentless
when we get to the more rapid of Martinů's
inspirations. His piano is superbly
recorded by Bavarian Radio.
In Butterflies and
Birds of Paradise skills different
from those demanded by the Etudes
and Polkas are
called for. Here Martinů's trademark
melodies and harmonies make sport in
a Debussian realm (Jardin
sous la Pluie). Again Kaspar squares
up to the composer's requirements. His
Birds of Paradise over the Sea is
pensive, elusive, voluptuously heroic
(6.31), smilingly bell-like and optimistic.
What is also notable here is Kaspar's
attention to varying dynamics.
The Seven Czech
Dances take us through the rustic
gamut from arthritic smock-dance à
la Shepherd Fennel to more gentle
and subtle inspirations. It has to be
admitted that the first three dances
are pretty stiff (not Kaspar's fault)
but things improve with the winsome
ragtime-inflected Dance No. 4 which
looks forward a decade and a half to
the 1940s. In fact the last four are
by far the most entertaining.
The angular Fantaisie
and Toccata is given a hunted and
desperate air reflecting the composer’s
upheaval in having to leave Paris in
turmoil. The Toccata is the more
dissonant and nightmare-ridden of these
conjoined pieces. These are roughly
contemporary with the Etudes and
Polkas but differs from them in
the oppressive cloud-hung mien - something
later picked up in the Third Symphony
and Lidice Memorial.
The Three Czech
Dances are from 1926. They sound
faintly Joplinesque at times and Prokofiev-gawky
at others. The winged brusque energy
of the final Polka just occasionally
looks forward twenty years to the mature
symphonic Martinů of the Atlantic
The isolated Dumka
1941 is Martinů full-fledged in
pliant rhythmic life and in subtly-coloured
harmony. There is something of the lullaby
about it - something of childhood.
The Piano Sonata is
one for the instrument. It was written
in Nice where Martinů was staying
in hope of a return to Czechoslovakia.
Rudolf Serkin was the intended player.
It is a strange piece which in this
case fails to convince.
le Jardin is from 1938 and the Paris
years. The four pieces are very short
and all bear the imprint of later symphonic
works as well as being completely convincing
in their own right as piano solos in
the French mode. They were written while
the composer and his wife were staying
at Vieux Moulin with Jan Zrzavny. The
final allegretto has a lick or
two of Prokofiev giving it a grotesque
Going back a decade
further there are the Trois Esquisses
from 1927. The Tempo di Blues
is less a blues that a ragtime.
Tempo di Tango is all dark clouds
heavy with chilly raindrops. It's not
really an approach toward Piazzolla.
The Tempo di Charleston is a
relentless cross between popular culture
and Mussorgsky's Dance of the Unhatched
There is no direct
competition but Firkusný has
a selection of these pieces in Artistes
et Répertoires 74321 886 822.
His sound is warmer. more gauzy and
less tightly focused than Kaspar. He
makes a better more convincing case
for the problematic Sonata No. 1 but
Kaspar is outstanding in the Etudes
and Polkas even in the face of Firkusný’s
piano recital on Panton 81 1426-2 131
is more generous in timing at [71.35].
It has the Fantaisie et Toccata,
all three books of Etudes and Polkas
and the Piano Sonata. His Fantaisie
et Toccata is superior in imagination
to Kaspar's and he is just as well recorded.
Maly's attack is spot-on: really eager
and alert. Maly's Etudes and Polkas
are less well defined, characterised
and recorded than Kaspar's but not by
a very wide margin. The handsome sound
accorded to the Kaspar recording no
doubt magnifies all the other playing
and psychological merits of these two
Tudor discs. Maly is however a most
perceptive and persuasive player and
this is clear for example in the romantic
haze of the Etude from book 3
Eleonora Bekova recorded
the Sonata in 1997 for Chandos (CHAN
9655) and the sound of her piano is
richer - presumably a factor of a superior
instrument and the much warmer acoustic
of the Maltings, Snape. The overlay
of warmth is not entirely an advantage.
Greater clarity and the absence of an
ambient aura is preferable though Bekova's
harried nightmare hunt in Fantaisie
et Toccata is superior to Maly's.
Emil Leichner recorded all the
piano solo music and the piano concertos
during the 1980s. They were issued by
Supraphon on 11 1010-2 - a 3 CD set
running to almost three hours and twenty
minutes. Leichner is very good indeed
and an excellent all-round choice. He
has all the necessary digital skills
and an imaginative dimension
that makes a vivid impression. He is
not recorded as sweetly nor with such
immediacy as Kaspar but his readings
are essential listening for any Martinů
fan. He also makes hay with the recalcitrant
Sonata with its tendency to belligerence
What goes somewhat
against the two discs is their comparatively
short playing time of just over and
just under an hour.
Both discs have their
booklet covers adorned with dreamily
surreal paintings by Jan Zrzavý
(1890-1977), a much longer-lived friend
and contemporary of Martinů. They
are from the period 1908-1913.
this Tudor pair represents some of the
best recorded and performed Martinů.
It might well take a lot of effort to
run these Tudor discs to ground but
if you hold a torch for Martinů
on the piano then seek out these discs
as a primus inter pares companion
to the Leichner box and Maly disc.