More of Martinu's music please
Very successful mixing of old with the new at Norwich's King of Hearts last night in a concert by the quartet of musicians who make up the London Handel Players. The programme included J.S and C.P.E Bach, Handel, Leclair and Barry Guy's admirably uncompromising 1985 "Whistle and Flute" for flutes and eight track tape which was played by the flautist it was written for, Rachel Brown.
But the highlight of an outstanding concert was Bohuslav Martinů's 1940 Promenades for flute, violin and harpsichord, with its angular rhythms and sparkling writing for the harpsichord. A little known gem, and one that had me revisiting some of the many Martinů recordings in my collection.
My love for Martinů's music was sparked by Václav Neumann four LP set of the symphonies with the Czech Philharmonic on Supraphon which dates from the late 1970s. When the CD age dawned I bought Bryden Thomson's Chandos set of the symphonies (now deleted) with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. But sadly that set doesn't have the Slovak 'edge' of the Neumann records, or is that wonderful analogue sound on the Czech LP pressings?
There is much other wonderful Martinů. The Cello Concertos are under-rated, while the Field Mass and opera The Greek Passion are both masterpieces. (The Greek Passion is based on Christ Recrucified , a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, which opens up another path). Two personal favourites among Martinů's orchestral output can be found on an Erato double CD, the Double Concerto for string orchestra, piano and timpani, and the sublime Frescoes of Piero della Francesca. The Erato CDs are now deleted (which is probably a measure of how far Martinů has fallen out of fashion) but you can still find them.
2009 brings the fiftieth anniversary of Martinů's death. Hopefully this will mean more Martinů and less of some other composers. Meanwhile the King of Hearts' innovative Autumn Festival continues in a few minutes with more Bach, and on Saturday evening Jane Chapman's harpsichord recital includes music by Ligeti, Takemitsu and Jeremy Peyton-Jones, as well as by Rameau, W.F, Bach and Haydn. Thank goodness some concert promoters are still prepared to take risks.
My photo shows Martinů (right) with the American composer Frederick Jacobi and comes from an excellent article by Anton Wagner.
Now download some other Czech delights here.
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