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Bohuslav MARTINŮ(1890-1959)
Cello Concerto No. 1, H 196 (1930; revised 1939 and 1955) [26:08]
Cello Concerto No. 2, H 304 (1944-45) [36:07]
Cello Concertino - for Cello, Wind Instruments, Piano and Percussion, H 143 (1924) [13:54]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Jirí Belohlavek
rec. Spanish Hall, Prague Castle, 24-28 June 1991
CHANDOS CHAN10547X [76:27]
Experience Classicsonline

These June 1991 recordings were well respected when first issued at full price on Chandos CHAN 9015 in 1992. Rather like their Oslo/Jansons Tchaikovsky series this disc - with its logical and appealing triple filling - could easily have stayed at premium price. However 2009 - Martinů year - has seen Chandos recognising the event by transferring the disc to mid-price with no compromise on presentation.  

This version by Wallfisch is the finest of Martinů Cello Concerto 1s. I had forgotten how attractive this work is. One of these days we will perhaps hear it in its unrevised version of 1930 but until then the revisions of 1939 and 1955 present the work with the much richer emotional palette of the works of the 1950s. It comes across as tragically eloquent and constantly active and picaresque. The Second Concerto suffers a little from the dense texturing of the first movement though the high strings wing their way free from the matte backdrop. It was written during a prime time for Martinů in New York. First taken up, twenty years after its completion, by Sasa Vectomov, it was recorded in 1965 by Supraphon with Vectomov as soloist. It's a typical work of Martinů's 1940s. It paints in grand emotions and gestures and links with the Fourth and Fifth symphonies the latter more than the former. Throughout there is idiomatic and stirring support from the Czech Phil under Belohlavek. Lastly we come to the stripped down jazzy Stravinskian textures of the 1924 Concertino here laid out in a single track. Echoes of Les Noces, Petrushka and Ragtime are not difficult to hear. There are also moments when the eloquent cello - a elephant in the room in this company - springs free to sing of the Czech countryside.

The notes are by Graham Melville-Mason and are well up to thorough and readable standards. 

I always lamented how few CDs the Chandos Belohlavek Prague connection yielded. Of the clutch that did emerge this is one of the strongest and an ideal introduction to two problematical or elusive works in the Martinů line-up - the Concertino and the First Concerto. The Concertino is, by the way, an object lesson in conveying the essential illusion of space and depth through only two channels. Delightful.

Rob Barnett


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