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8.554502 - MARTINU: Works for Cello and Piano, Vol. 1

Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959)
Works for cello and piano, Volume 1

may still be less well known than his compatriots Dvořák, Smetana and Janáček, but his output is large and ranges from chamber works to symphonies and operas. These include some real treasures and much that is attractive and enjoyable. If it is the symphonic works and operas that make the strongest impression at first, much of the chamber music has a more intimate appeal to a home listener. Among these works are the three sonatas and short pieces on this disc, none too long to outstay their welcome.

Bohuslav Martinů was born on 8th December 1890 in a small room in the tower of St. James' Church in the Czech village of Polička. His first composition, at the age of thirteen, was a piece called Three Riders, written for string quartet. Such early promise was disappointed when he was expelled from Prague Conservatory after four years.

It was not until 1918 at the end of the First World War that Martinů produced his first major composition, Czech Rhapsody for baritone, chorus and orchestra. This traditional patriotic work uses texts from Psalm 23, the poem Bohemia and quotes the nationalist Wenceslas Chorale.

As a violinist with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra he worked under the great Czech conductor, Václav Talich. It was not long before Martinů fell under the spell of the new French music of composers like Debussy and Ravel, the first product of that influence being the exotic ballet, Istar, of 1921. By 1923, the lure of things Gallic persuaded him to move to France where he studied under Albert Roussel in Paris. There he gained recognition outside his own country as one of the leading composers of the day.

Martinů's preoccupation with the impressionism of Debussy soon changed to an interest in the neo-­classicism favoured by Stravinsky as well as Parisian Symbolism and Dadaism and a love affair with the new American Jazz. The results were works like the 1926 ballet The Butterfly that stamped and the jazzy Kitchen Revue of 1927 and Jazz Suite of a year later.

In 1930, Martinů rediscovered the Baroque Concerto Grosso form. By 1932 he composed an affectionate folk ballet Špaliček, remembering the music of his homeland, and in 1934 wrote the first of his major operas, The Miracle of Our Lady. The works which followed are some of his finest: the operas Alexandre his and the surrealist Julietta, the folk cantata A Bouquet of Flowers, the String Quartet No. 4 and the Concerto Grosso.

The Nazi threat in Europe now meant permanent exile. He fled Paris in 1940, escaping the German troops, reaching the South of France and then moving on to America like many of Europe's great musicians.

In New York, where Dvořák had written his last symphony, Martinů began his series of six symphonies. He was deeply homesick and decided to return to Europe in 1953. He settled, not in the new Czechoslovakia but on the French Riviera where he was inspired to write one of his most luminescent works, the triptych of the Frescoes of Piero della Francesca, as well as two contrasting oratorios, Gilgamesh and The Opening of the Wells. Illness and depression were now plaguing the wandering composer and in 1958 he moved to Switzerland to stay with the conductor and impresario Paul Sacher. On 28th August 1959 Martinů died in a hospital near Basle and was buried near to Sacher's home. His last years had seen him involved in his epic opera The Greek Passion, a work which summed up much of his life's work.>

This present disc contains all three of the Sonatas for cello and piano together with some transcriptions of pieces originally for violin and piano. The three Sonatas were written between 1939 and 1952 – the first in Paris, the second in New York and the third partly in America and partly in France. All three works are already mature in style and although the First Sonata was written in that troubled year of war, it shows little of the drama of some of Martinů's compositions of the previous year. The second sonata of 1941 is more traditional, beginning with a sonata form opening Allegro and a moving emotional slow movement to follow. The Third Sonata of 1952 is perhaps a more strictly classical work, one of the last of those pieces written in this style before the Sixth Symphony of the following year. All three Sonata, are written in the standard three-movement form with a central slow movement. Transcriptions of some short and attractive pieces originally written for violin and piano are also included: the Arabesque, of 1931 and the short Ariette of the previous year.

David Doughty

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