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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Early Orchestral Works - Volume 3
Vanishing Midnight (1922) [45:02]
Ballade (after Böcklin’s picture ‘Villa by the Sea’) (c.1915) [17:39]
Dream of the Past (1920) [13:29]
Sinfonia Varsovia/Ian Hobson
rec. 2014/17, Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio S1, Polish Radio, Warsaw

Both previous releases in this series have been, to some extent, exploratory and revelatory in charting the context of Martinů’s early musical development but this latest release has strong claims to being the most important yet.

The major work is Vanishing Midnight, a symphonic triptych of 1922. Its performance history is meagre. Talich conducted the central movement in concert and there seems to have been another performance a few years later but since then there has been silence, until now. The work represents a moment of crux in Martinů’s direction. One can feel the sustained influences of impressionism and in places of Richard Strauss but, as Talich himself noted, it also shows ‘a leap and and not a step’ forward for the composer. If the first panel’s title, Satyrs in the Grove of Cypresses, suggests a votary and voluptuary element ā la Szymanowski the reality is rather different with an atmospheric first section and a celebratory second, a luscious solo violin emerging over winds and horns. Full of subtle orchestration and incident, the central movement owes a debt to Debussy but also reveals an independent streak in its exciting dynamism, its structural cohesion, and a sense of narrative destiny in the music-making. It’s this last element, in particular, that suggests a lineage with those later works such as Parables and Estampes. With its almost frantic drama the final panel of the work moves from agitation to pessimism, the work ending on a rather haunting note, though along the way some typical cadences emerge as well as possibly sublimated Scriabinesque elements too. I think it is undeniable that the older composer would have subjected so rich and evocative a work to revision and pruning, but it’s an index of his development and thus, I have to say, a must-hear for real devotees.

The Ballade is yet another musical composition that looks to the artist Böcklin for inspiration, in this case the picture Villa by the Sea. (Toccata reproduces a black and white photograph in the booklet.) It’s the only surviving moment from a set of Symphonic Dances. There’s a charged atmosphere throughout, and adept use of the piano – perhaps its use incarnates the lone young woman in the picture gazing out to sea, the orchestra representing the elements - and also some Mahlerian-like touches, though this may be more a shared Moravian inheritance. The glowering elemental power also includes Straussian touches, it’s true, but given the 1915 composition date this isn’t especially surprising.

Dream of the Past (1920) once made it to a Panton LP recorded in Olomouc, and this yearning Debussian tone poem cum rhapsody is full of ripe sonorities and textures. It’s a work of drama and refinement which, as Michael Crump suggests in his notes, sounds improvisatory.

Crump’s booklet note is packed full of pertinent musico-biographical detail and he goes into rich detail about the works, through typos regarding track numbering mean you’ll need to keep your wits about you. The vivid contributions of the Sinfornia Varsovia and Ian Hobson ensure the disc’s success.

Jonathan Woolf



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