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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Seven Arabesques H 201 (1931) [17:11]
Cello Sonata No. 1 H 277 (1939) [17:45]
Cello Sonata No. 2 H 286 (1941) [19:53]
Cello Sonata No. 3 H 340 (1951-52) [19:49]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
John York (piano)
rec. December 2017 and April 2018, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK
NIMBUS NI8105 [74:38]

Jonathan Woolf recently reviewed this CD and found much to like, even if this is not his first choice for these sonatas. Of the other recordings to which he referred, I am familiar only with the classic Starker/Firkušný account on RCA. However, I was very impressed with Raphael Wallfisch’s earlier disc of Martinů’s Cello Concertos and Concertino with the Czech Philharmonic under Jiří Bělohlávek (review) and also am pleased with this new recording of the sonatas, especially since it includes the composer’s delightful Arabesques. The works on this disc cover a broad spectrum of Martinů’s career, as do the concerted pieces on the other disc. Thus, this is a suitable companion to that one, and with these two CDs one can enjoy Martinů’s major compositions for cello. These works contain in abundance the composer’s key modulations and syncopation that make his style so distinctive.

If Starker/Firkušný are somewhat more compelling with their bracing, rhythmically incisive accounts of the fast movements, Wallfisch/York hold their own particularly in the more lyrical passages throughout these works. All three sonatas are masterpieces that deserve far greater advocacy on concert programs than they have received. Wallfisch/York provide plenty of power and energy to the outer movements of the First Sonata and excel in the sparseness and bleakness of the second movement before the mood changes, the lyrical theme emerging which the duo express with all the warmth desired. The same is true for the Second Sonata, where Wallfisch/York capture well in the middle movement the feeling of sadness that the composer apparently experienced, having recently left his homeland. Yet, they do not shortchange the lighter, even jazzy atmosphere of the finale. This brighter mood comes to the fore in the Sonata No. 3, where the influence of American jazz is apparent throughout the outer movements that contrast with the more somber slow movement. The duo seem especially well attuned to the happier spirit and humour of this sonata and revel in the work’s syncopations. Theirs is a wonderful performance, indeed.

What really makes this programme competitive with its rivals, though, is the bonus of the Seven Arabesques. There is a world of variety in these short pieces from the dancing liveliness of the first arabesque and the jazzy, bluesy second one to the more pensive third and lyrical fifth arabesque. The fourth in this series is like a Czech hoedown, a rustic, stomping dance. The last two are also lively with the seventh an exuberant folk dance. For me, these are worth the price of the disc alone. Combined with fine performances of the cello sonatas and excellent sound, what’s not to like. In addition, pianist John York contributes worthwhile notes on the music.

Leslie Wright
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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