Bohuslav Martinu: The Complete Music for Violin and Orchestra 2-4

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Bohuslav Martinu

The Complete Music for Violin and Orchestra 2-4 (Concerto da camera H 285, Concerto for Violin and Piano H 342, Czech Rhapsody H 307A, Suite concertante H 276, H 276A, Rhapsody-Concerto H 337, Violin Concerto No. 1 H 226, Violin Concerto No. 2 H 293)

Bohuslav Matousek--violin and viola, Czech Philharmonic, Christopher Hogwood.

Production: Simon Perry, Zdenek Zahradnik. Text: Eng., Ger., Fr. Recorded: 2001-2005, Rudolfinum, Prague. Released: 2008. TT: 64:35, 68:49, 54:10. DDD. 3 CD Hyperion CDA67672, CDA67673, CDA67674.

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The mere fact that the British Hyperion label has managed in less than a year to publish four CDs and so to enrich its catalogue--in a deliberate and very visible way--with the complete works of Bohuslav Martinu for violin and orchestra, is in itself very interesting. Bohuslav Matousek, who in 2000 already recorded a four-CD complete set of the same composer's works for violin and piano with a Czech label, but to international acclaim, has literally fought his way through to his next, this time symphonic complete set, having to go through the whole process twice--once as initiator and essentially producer of a project that Supraphon then abandoned after the first CD, and a second time with a new company. Martinu will definitely not be lost in the Hyperion catalogue (the firm is clearly stronger and more far-sighted than Supraphon), where this admirable complete set is the major artistic achievement that he deserves, and no mere curiosity. It's a good thing that he has found a home there. CMQ (1/2008) has already reviewed the first part with the three double concertos from the turn of the 1930s/40s (for flute and violin and twice for two violins): as an exceptional recording, full of lucid and good-humoured music, infectiously light-footed and juicy, often radiating a unique palette of colours. From the beginning there could be no doubt about Matousek's beautiful, chaste but at the same time suitably energetic and powerful sound--the same superlatives could be used for all four CDs in the project. Over the last year the remaining three titles have come out in succession. The series, which will evidently be coming out in a boxed edition for the Martintu jubilee, is unified by the style of the covers with reproductions of four different pictures of birches. They also have in common Matousek's enthusiastic, highly individual and unostentatious erudition and the conductor's tried and tested, unifying and integrating understanding. It is to be expected that this model, durable performance will prove a standard for many years to come--and one hopes that the CDs will also lead to the inclusion in more ordinary repertoire of some hitherto less frequently played works.

The second CD offers the Concerto da camera, written during the war for Paul Sacher and his Basel Chamber Orchestra. With its similar neo-Baroque stylistic grounding and its instrumental profile and sound, the piece perceptibly develops the line established in the Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani also written for Sacher--but this work is much more dramatic. Unlike most of the music in the complete set the other work on the second CD--Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra--dates from the 1950s. The difference is evident in the more massive symphonic sound, thematic material, development of the musical flow, typical sequences of chords, and correspondingly longer lyrical episodes. Here Karel Kosarek is an equal partner. The Czech Rhapsody, the third item on the second CD, is an exception in the project because it is not an original opus but an orchestration of what was originally a chamber piece (violin and piano). It should be stressed, however, that Jiri Teml accomplished this in a very faithful spirit, perfectly mirroring the orchestral colours and techniques of Martinu as well as small typical details including for example his judgement in the use of a snare drum. …

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