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Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Polyptyque Six Images de la Passion du Christ (1973) [24:10]; Maria-Triptychon (1967-68) [20:46]; Passacaille (1944/1962) [12:36]
Muriel Cantoreggi (violin); Juliane Banse (soprano);
German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Christoph Poppen
rec. February, June 2006, Funkhaus Halberg, Saarbrücken, Germany. DDD
ECM NEW SERIES ECM2015 1733930 [57:57] 
Experience Classicsonline

Frank Martin was a Swiss composer who spent much of his life in the
Netherlands. His musical language combines the influences of Schoenberg and Bach with a successful fusion of modern and traditional techniques and melodic shaping. His works are not particularly well known, but the music on this beautifully presented ECM disc is likely to encourage the listener to seek out more of Martin’s works. 

The programmatic Polyptyque – Six images de la Passion du Christ for solo violin and two string orchestras was one of Martin’s last works. It was perhaps written in tribute to the heavy influence of Bach’s St Matthew Passion which had been a constant presence in his life since he first heard the work at the age of twelve. Each of the six movements represents an image from the scenes of the Passion. Image des Rameaux takes its material from the opening five notes, the imitative writing bringing to mind Bach’s counterpoint, but with a suggestion of Hindemith. The quick angular writing is tempered by floating violin lines. The breathtaking Image de la Chamber haute­, representing the Last Supper develops a mournful violin solo which demands to be heard. The third movement, Image de Juda is energetic and rhythmically defined, forming a contrast with the surrounding material. Image de Géthsémané provides an opportunity to enjoy the fabulous violin playing of Muriel Cantoreggi in an extended solo with unobtrusive orchestral accompaniment joining her later in the movement. The biting fifth movement, Image du Jugement is one of the most aggressive, with striking off-beat chords and gritty harmonies. The finale, Image de la Glorification brings the work to a luminescent close. There are some deeply expressive, beautiful moments, with wonderfully satisfying harmonies and wandering violin lines. Muriel Cantoreggi’s playing is stunning and further enhances the emotional impact of this fantastic work. 

Maria-Triptychon uses soprano, violin and orchestra in three movements. Composed for the married couple Irmgard Seefried and Wolfgang Schneiderhan in 1967-68, it is once again based on religious meanings. The movements are entitled Ave Maris, Magnificat and Stabat Mater. The soprano line adds a dramatic dimension to the orchestration. Juliane Banse’s voice is dark and velvety, its tone blending well with the orchestra and solo violin. The stillness of the opening movement is contrasted against the bustling instrumental writing opening the second, with dazzling soprano and violin proclamations floating above the orchestra. The momentum varies throughout the movement, keeping a sense of drama and direction leading to the final motionless bars. The final movement deals with the end of Christ’s life. The musical language used to introduce it is more angular, with hypnotic repeated gestures and a return to the material of the work’s opening at the end. This is a faultless recording, which intoxicates with every passing moment. 

The Passacaille uses a traditionally baroque structural technique and is heard here as an orchestration of the 1944 organ original. The form gives an unconscious unity to the material, without ever becoming monotonous or staid. Martin’s inventions work on many levels and this is a piece which ends with an enormous sense of satisfaction and completeness. The orchestration is masterfully handled and gives a wonderful aura of space and colour to the work. 

The playing on this disc is consistently brilliant, from the soloists, the conductor and the orchestra alike. ECM has delivered an extremely high quality product which deserves recognition. Frank Martin would be justly proud.

Carla Rees

see also Review by Dominy Clements


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