While the Concerto Grosso of 1937 is a product of the Parisian
years this collection speaks overall of his masterly American
period. It has the sound of the piano as a thread running through
all three works.
Grosso may have been written in Paris but it shakes
off the neo-classical malaise that had begun to seep into the
composer’s bones. It has some of that Parisian DNA but something
else is going on too. It is rather ‘modern’ baroque certainly
but in the outer movements it fizzes, steams, wheezes and shudders
in this performance with a fearfully impressive zest. It is
like some Jules Verne-ian cast iron engine hissing and straining
at the floor bolts. Especially in the finale one is reminded
of the wilder, juicier Stravinsky of Tango or Ragtime.
This contrasts nicely with the miasmic wasteland ambivalence
of the Adagio. Hála and Jiříkovský are the two pianists.
The Concerto Grosso was premiered in Boston and acted
as Martinů’s passport to acceptance, acclaim and commissions
in his New World.
Kukal’s is the most
successful recorded version of the Sinfonietta La Jolla
I have ever heard. It dates from the year after the
Symphony – the finest of the Six. In fact it once shared
an LP with the Fourth – EMI ASD 3888 (RLPO/Walter Weller). That
LP never made it to CD but Weller re-recorded the symphony –
and rather brilliantly – for Fuga
Libera. The air breathed by La Jolla has the same
life-enhancing richness and nervy-delectable oxygen as the Fourth
Symphony. The sprung ecstasy of the first and final movements
of the Sinfonietta takes on a triumphant surge in the
finale. There is a lyrically pacific Largo.
The Toccata e
due canzoni is deeply impressive and is heard here in
a performance to match. The Toccata is all humming-tension
and active ambivalence: cycling between threat and power, despair
and joy. Canzone I is memorable for that same grip and
for its classic tight bell-obsessive carillon from the piano.
That carillon, once heard, haunts you as much as the ostinato
from Nightride and Sunrise. In the pregnant piano figure
Hála is, as I recall, quicker than Hnat who is to be preferred
very slightly – or he would be if the Hnat had been reissued
on CD. Canzone II has a Shostakovich scald to the harmonic
language. In this work one begins to feel Martinů’s world
turning towards darkness. Could I also add that there is a similarly
impressive version of this work on an Arte
Nova anthology from Christopher Hogwood.
La Jolla and Toccata e Due Canzoni were previously coupled
on LP by Supraphon with Zdeňek Hnat and the same Prague
CO on SUP 110 1619. Fine performances which would easily bear
One can only fault
this disc for failing to add a fourth work. In terms of playing
duration it could easily have offered the Sinfonia Concertante
or the Sinfonietta Giocosa.
The recordings are
now a dozen years old but they catch the Martinů sound
in full flight - wonderful.