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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Songs - Volume 3
sung in Czech
*World premičre recordings
Jana Hrochová Wallingerová (mezzo), Giorgio Koukl (piano)
rec. Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland, 17 June, 2014
NAXOS 8.573387 [65:14]

Despite songs forming a large part of Martinů’s output there has been little attention paid to them by record companies. This explains why 18 of those on this disc are world premičre recordings. Once again it is hats off to Naxos for giving them the exposure they richly deserve. Thanks are also due in no small way to pianist Giorgio Koukl whose dedication to Martinů’s music has led to so many recordings, including his entire solo piano music (Volume 4 and links to earlier volumes ~ Volume 5 ~ Volumes 6 & 7) and the piano concertos (1, 2 & 4 ~ 3 & 5) and three volumes of songs (see review of Volume 1). Koukl is one of the world’s greatest interpreters of the composer’s music which is further demonstrated with this recording. Jana Hrochová Wallingerová’s voice is absolutely right for this repertoire with her perfect diction. She also has the ability to impart the happy and joyful elements prevalent in so many of these songs as well as the sad and reflective. The first two collections, songs on one and two pages, are cycles to folk texts and are attractively set to folk like tunes for which Martinů had such a good ear. Niponari is a cycle that takes us far from the Bohemian, Moravian and Slovak origins of the first two cycles; these draw their inspiration from folk-songs by Japanese lyric poets. This cycle is a significant one from early in Martinů’s output having been written when the composer was only 22 in 1912. Richard Whitehouse in his liner-notes says that there is not much evidence in these songs of a personal idiom though for me Martinů’s unique voice is emerging even then. It makes him one of those composers whom I find very easy to identify. These songs are all very serious in their subject matter and seem to incorporate the elements that we often associate with Japan where life and its meaning are reflected upon perhaps rather more deeply than in the ‘West’.

With Two songs to Negro Folk Poems we are as far from Japan as Japan is from Central Europe. They show Martinů’s ‘concern to reflect contemporary issues’ as Richard Whitehouse puts it. These songs, written twenty years after those they follow take issues that sadly still concern the USA’s black citizens. With Lullaby we have a mother assuring her little son that the colour of his skin matters not to God even though it may to some on earth and He will love him anyway. Longing has a distinctive jazzy, bluesy syncopation which many composers in Europe were incorporating into their music in the 1930s and which is obviously totally appropriate here.

The remaining songs, like the previous eight are all world premičre recordings and give us a clear indication of how Martinů’s song-writing developed in the early years of the twentieth century and how important they were to a young man in his early twenties. They show someone who knew exactly where he was going musically even at such an early age. Oh, speak ponders the dying of the soul while the body ages, in the fatalistic way that reminds us of some of the Japanese songs that went before. Blue eyes takes a much more optimistic view of life. For the most part these songs express the confidence of youth that has not yet had to contend with problems either of the heart or of life itself. Song about Hanička is a nice folksy one and makes a perfect way to round the disc off.

These songs are a delight and will be welcomed by all fans of Martinů. If there are people out there who are still to be convinced of his worth then this is a good place to start for they are charming as well as serious. They bear the composer’s distinctive voice which, for his legions of supporters, makes him a giant of twentieth century music.

Steve Arloff
Track listing
Songs on one page, H.294 (1943) [7:31]
Songs on two pages, H.302 (1944) [8:11]
Niponari, H.68a (1912)* [21:28]
Two songs to Negro Folk Poems, H.232bis (1932)* [8:52]
My Mother, H.34/1 (1911)* [2:56]
It is all gone, H.55 (1912)* [1:29]
Oh, speak, H.8bis (1910)* [5:06]
Blue Eyes, H.70 (1910)* [2:10]
The Rose, H.54 (1912)* [1:12]
Shine, God, Shine, H.76 (1912)* [1:01]
The right tally, H.34/2 (1911)* [2:37]
Marry me off, Mother, H.53 (1912)* [1:00]
Song about Hanička, H.80 (1912)* [1:27]



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