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CLASSICAL  January 2009

CLASSICAL January 2009

Subject:

Martinu - Works for Violin & Orchestra

From:

James Tobin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 09:22:57 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (222 lines)

Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959)

THE COMPLETE MUSIC FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Christopher Hogwood
Bohuslav Matusek, violin
Other soloists as indicated on each of the four releases.

I. Concerto for Flute, Violin and Orchestra H252 [1936]
   Duo Concertante for Two Violins and Orchestra H264 [1937]
   Concerto in D Major for Two Violins and Orchestra H329 [1950]
Janne Thomsen, flute
Bohuslav Matusek, Regis Pasquier and Jennifer Koh, violin
Hyperion CDA67671 55'06  [2007. Recorded 2004, 2005]

II. Concerto da Camera H285 [1941]
    Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra H342 [1953]
    Czech Rhapsody H307A [1945]
        (arranged for violin & orchestra by Jiri Teml; premiere 2001]
Carel Kosarek, piano
Hyperion CDA67672 64'35 [2008. Recorded 2004]

III. Suite Concertante, first version H276 [1939]
     Suite Concertante, second version H276A [1943-1944?]
     Rhapsody-Concerto for viola and orchestra H337 [1952]
Bohuslav Matusek, violin and viola
Hyperion CDA67673 68'49 [2008. Recorded 2004, 2005]

IV. Violin Concerto No. 1 H226 (H228/233) [1931+]
      Violin Concerto No. 2 H293 [1943]
Hyperion CDA67674 54'10 [2008. Recorded 2001, 2004]

This is a very welcome and significant recording project and we can be
grateful to Hyperion and the performing arists who have recently made
it happen.  These eleven works were excellently performed and recorded
between 2001 and 2005 in the same venue: Dvorak Hall in Prague's Rudolfinum.
Prague castle, and where I had the pleasure of Apart from its completeness
aspect, most of these works are not well known and, for various reasons,
some of them had very delayed premieres, second performances or publications,
independently of their merits--more usually from reasons to do with the
soloists who commissioned them.  Their stylistic differences also had a
great deal to do with the individual performance styles and tastes of
the commissioning soloists.  In his youth Martinu was a violinist and
studied with Suk in Prague and Roussel in Paris, but the works recorded
here were all composed in the years of Martinu's maturity between 1931
and 1953.  The ones from the 1930s tended to be in a neo- baroque concerto
grosso style and the later ones tended more to neo- romanticism.  Because
of the Nazi occupation of France and later the communist takeover of his
native country, Martinu spent much time in the U.S.  where he became a
citizen, taught at Princeton for a time, and received a considerable
number of commissions and performances.  During the Second World War he
may have been the most performed classical composer in America.  He also
lived in Italy, France and Switzerland during his last years.

If I may venture a generalization about the mood and character of these
works in general, they tend to have a vigorous forward motion, especially
as performed here, and might even be said often to express joy and rarely
any negative feelings.  And if I may mention a recurring detail, which
always says Martinu to me, I have been much struck by Martinu's occasional
but striking use of a characteristic musical gesture--almost a signature
of his--in these and other works: it has varied specifics but evokes an
almost visual image; it begins with a vigorous thrusting long note
followed by a short one or two and then a vigorous long one again, higher
or lower than the first.

I shall discuss these works in the order in which Hyperion has elected
to present them.

The rather short Concerto for Flute, Violin and Orchestra includes also
an important part for piano.  The opening allegro moderato is vigorous
and some of it is fast, but there is also flowing melody and the solo
violin is sweet sounding.  The adagio opens gently with sounds of the
piano and flute and ends gently with the flute emphasized again.  The
movement is lyrical and melodious but contains enough tension to sustain
interest; there is a particularly intense passage toward the end.  The
final poco allegretto is exciting.

The Duo Concertante, composed a year later and also rather short,
alternates solos and tutto and begins with an intense but upbeat poco
allegro.  The adagio opens with high notes for the violins succeeded by
massed strings.  Accompaniment here by drums and piano is intense, though
not distressed sounding.  Pleasantly melodic playing with a few fluttery
sounds, a relaxed mood and a harmonious ending follow.  The final poco
allegro has a very vigorous opening with sounds of a piano. To my ears
the allegro is not so "poco" but the pace is not forced.  A couple of
minutes in soft trumpet playing is heard, again with the piano.  Crisp,
staccato playing builds momentum to a joyous abandon.  The concluding
Allegro has an almost raucous opening, again with the piano, vigorous
rhythms, and virtuoso writing.

Concerto in D major for Two Violins is a late work, written for a
large orchestra in the romantic tradition.  It was commissioned by twin
virtuoso violinists, who held onto the performing rights so long that
the work was published only after the composer's death.  There were also
problems with publishers.  The work was rediscovered decades later.  In
this performance at least, the opening poco allegro is more than a little
fast, cheerful, and very vigorous.  The commissioning soloists presumably
will have enjoyed playing the double, triple and quadruple (!) stops,
which gave the effect of a string quartet.  The second movement has a
rather perky opening and accented rhythms, light and bouncy at one point,
but reflective elsewhere and there is some sweet melody The final, Allegro
con brio, movement follows without pause and is upbeat and lively.  The
cadenza for duo violins is notable effective.j

The Concerto da Camera was commissioned by Paul Sacher and dedicated
to him and the Basel Chamber Orchestra.  For it Sacher had in mind a
violinist whose strengths were "tremendous technique," vigorous momentum
rather than elegance but also soft playing with "intimate charm," as he
described her.  Martinu produced a work in concerto grosso form, for a
string orchestra plus piano and percussion in addition to the solo violin.
The first movement, Moderato" is more vigorous than moderate and has
driving rhythms, but I would not call the performance "driven." The
Adagio is songlike and the booklet commentator, Ales Brezina, compares
it to a baroque aria and it is densely polyphonic.  The pace is
slow--definitely adagio.  It is quite nice.  There is a regular rhythmic
accompaniment.  The finale is a rondo, lively and bouncy, but with a
notable ritard followed by quiet playing for violin and piano before the
pace picks up at the conclusion.  Brezina says that it is because of the
work's "freshness of its musical invention, the sensual sound of the
orchestral part and the virtuosity of the solo parts," that this work
is a favorite among Martinu's concertos.

The Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra is a late work and its
emotional tone may reflect Martinu's personal issues at the time of
composition.  It is quite tonal but there are some jazz elements and a
toccata-like opening; the commentator refers to a "feverish ostinato."
Perhaps incongruously there is also a "Dvorak-like melody" in the strings.
For what it might be worth, Brezina compares this concerto to Martinu's
4th Symphony and thinks that the mood reflects the memory of war.  The
adagio is quite beautiful.  The opening is hushed and the pace almost
stately but later there is some of the loudest playing in any of these
pieces.  The finale is very vigorous and the opening even rather wild.
There are irregular rhythms accentuated by the trumpet.  There is also
a nice dialogue between the two solo instruments.

The Czech Rhapsody was commissioned by Fritz Kreisler but he never
played it, perhaps because it exceptionally difficult technically and
he was seventy years old at the time.  The orchestration was commissioned
by the Martinu Foundation because, although the composer wrote only a
piano reduction of what he evidently intended to orchestrate, he did not
get to it.  It is quite a nice piece.  It has irregular rhythms but also
some sweet passages, especially for the violin solo.  Mostly lively, it
ends with a satisfying thump.

The two suites concertante were commissioned in 1938 by the violinist
Samuel Dushkin, who is also known for inspiring Stravinsky's violin
concerto.  Partly because of the world war, and partly because of an
erroneous impression that Dushkin and Martinu were dissatisfied with it,
the first performance with orchestra did not occur for more than fifty
years.  To be sure, Dushkin prefered the second version, which is different
enough from the first to be quite a different work.  The movements of
the first version were entitled Prelude, Meditation (originally Elegy),
Intermezzo and Finale.  These became a Toccata, Aria, Scherzo and Rondo.
The first suite is in virtuoso style except for the slow Meditation; the
Intermezzo also has some slow, lyrical passages in addition to some
lively staccato playing.  The Toccata opening of the second version
begins as one might expect from the name, with staccato playing from
both soloist and the full orchestra including brass.  The second movement
opens with only strings playing and only the orchestra is heard for the
first couple of minutes.  The Scherzo is lively and playful, with
interesting solo/orchestral interaction.  The Rondo begins with a strong
orchestral statement, becomes quiet and then lively.

The Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola and orchestra is neo-romantic and one
of the most played viola concertos from the last century.  It has only
two movements.  The first, Moderato, begins gently with flowing melody
and the viola enters quietly.  The movement is mainly calm and lyrical,
though there is some lively motion and there are drums and trumpets
before the tranquil and beautiful ending, with the viola having the last
word.  I noted a slow, gentle crescendo and some swelling sound.  Some
nice parts for the winds include a flute solo against a light accompaniment.
The second movement, Molto adagio-- Poco allegro--Andante molto tranquillo,
includes some brass in the fast part.  The viola is allowed to be heard
well over the accompaniment and its sonority during the cadenza is
particularly satisfying.

The two concertos for solo violin and orchestra particularly illustrate
what I said at the outset about the importance of the commissioner to
the character of the work.  For Dushkin, who commissioned the first, in
addition to the suites, virtuosity was paramount.  In consequence, the
opening and closing movements (including triple stops) are what I would
call flashy and not at all to my taste.  I do like the Andante, the pace
of which is on the brisk side.  This composition caused Martinu a great
deal of trouble, as did the first suite.  In the case of the latter,
Martinu threw out the first three movements he wrote; in the case of the
concerto, he completed writing it in two months, but then Dushkin insisted
on revision after revision, such that its premiere was delayed until
1973, long after Martinu was gone.  The story of the commission of the
very different second concerto is amazing but evidently well documented.
Mischa Elman, the world renowned soloist known mainly for performing
18th and 19th century music, happened to hear Martinu's first symphony
in Carnegie Hall in 1944 and was so impressed that he visited Martinu
to offer a commission.  Martinu had never heard any of Elman's playing,
nor that of any of the other leading violinists of the time and frankly
said so.  He did however agree to listen to Elman play.  After hearing
Elman for a half hour or so, Martinu remained silent and went away, only
to surprise Elman two months later with the complete score of the second
violin concerto.  The really amazing thing is that he tailored the solo
part to Elman's taste and style of playing, his kind of sound, his love
of slow tempos, his use of portamento and rubato and a preference for
"noble and elegant melodies." Actually, the opening bar of the work is
quite harsh sounding and in the first movement the orchestra punctuates
the sweet sounding solo violin with some harsh chords.  Some of the
orchestration is quite interesting.  The Andante is fresh and interesting.
The pace has forward motion and euphonious sounds are succeeded by intense
as well as gentle passages.  The finale begins with a crash and loud
vigorous sound from the orchestra is guaranteed to hold the listener's
attention.  Some passages for the soloist dominate the orchestra and are
vigorous without being flashy.  There is some particularly striking
melodic cooperation between the solo instrument and the orchestra at one
point.  The conclusion features some lively, skipping syncopation.

I strongly recommend these recordings.  If pressed to say which to try
first, I would say to acquire them in the order they were released but
this is probably just reflective of my own tastes.

Copyright  2009 R. James Tobin

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