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Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, July 2007

Martinu: Complete Piano Music Vol 1 8.557914
Martinu: Complete Piano Music Vol 2 8.557918

…it is Koukl who regularly makes better overall sense of the rhythmic pulse that formed the foundation of Martinů’s work. This, plus his willingness to apply a greater range of dynamics, makes the bright climax of “Birds of paradise above the sea” seem an inevitable progression…

Definitely recommended, with hopes for more in the near future. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, June 2007

Pianist Giorgio Koukl has embarked on a complete traversal of Martinu’s piano music with a disc offering 29 short pieces (collected into six groups including Eight Preludes, Dance Sketches et al. and a single Fox Trot) many of which are delightfully jazz-tinged. He plays with strength and stylistic sensitivity.

American Record Guide, April 2007

One may wonder about Giorgio Koukl's qualifications as a Martinu pianist. He was born in Prague in 1953 and moved to Italian-speaking Switzerland at the time of the Soviet invasion of his motherland. He discovered Martinu in a master class with Rudolf Firkusny. He quickly began performing it, and it now is a major portion of his repertory. I only have two of these items, played by Radoslav Kvapil on old, deleted Unicorns. He really does seem to play with the same degree of authority that Kvapil does. Add in Naxos's low price and slightly superior recording and this becomes very attractive. Since this is called Volume I of the complete piano music we have more to look forward to.

With the exception of his early Foxtrot, which was written in his home town in 1920, all of these works were written in Paris from 1923 to 1940. They show an eclectic mix of influences but with fairly heavy amounts of American jazz, which clearly fascinated him. The Foxtrot shows the influence of American piano rags. The Eight Preludes date from 1929 and again show jazz influences. He dedicated them to the woman he married two years later.

In 1938 Martinu wrote Window on the Garden, which is the view he had from the window of a cottage where they lived. Shortly after this, he got a phone call from Rudolf Firkusny warning him to leave France before the Nazis invaded.

His Fables were written shortly after arriving in France in 1923. Each is a different animal that might appear in a children's tale.

The three Sketches date from 1927, and each shows the influence of American music: the Blues, the Tango, and the Charleston. From the same year we also have Christmas- a charming setting in the typical French manner of a carol.

The Dance Sketches written in 1932 show a combination of influences: his Czech roots, Albert Roussel (with whom he studied), Stravinsky, whose music was a profound influence; and American composers like David Diamond.

Martin Anderson
International Piano, April 2007

The initial release, in 1992, of the previous survey of Martinu's piano music - a three-disc set by Emil Leichner on Supraphon - avoided claiming completeness; the 2003 re-issue of the same was bolder, mistakenly so: Eric Entwistle's CD for Summit (SMT 407), released in the same year, was able to boast ten first recordings. The first two (separate) volumes in this new Naxos survey from Giorgio Koukl, an explicit intégrale, offers several pieces missing even from Leichner's anthology: Fables, Le Noël, Film en miniature, Foxtrot, Spring in the Garden, The Fifth Day of the Fifth Moon and Les Bouquinistes du Quai Malaquais - miniatures (or suites of miniatures) all of them, but all part of the chain of stepping stones that led him to Martinů's mature style.

The opportunity lost here is that there's no attempt to present the music chronologically: Vol.1 contains pieces written between 1920 and 1938 (with one exception, all produced during his Paris sojourn, 1923-38) and Vol.2 offers works composed between 1912 and 1948. So the suites on Vol.2 (the three of Puppets (1914-24), Butterflies and Birds of Paradise (1920), Spring in the Garden (1920) and Film en miniature(1925)) generally predate the items on vol.1, and show him digesting French Impressionism and other early influences, not least American dance, whereas the two concluding items of the second disc (The Fifth Day of the Fifth Moon, a pentatonic aquarelle dedicated to Hsien-Ming Lee, the wife of the composer Alexander Tcherepnin, and Les Bouquinistes du Quai Malaquais), date from 1948, when he was in American exile, and are radically different in style. The composer of the material on vol.1 is much more the Maninů we are familiar with: here the major influences are Stravinsky, his teacher Roussel and jazz, and the music fizzes with spiky invention. But presenting the identifiable Maninů of the Eight Preludes of 1929 and Fenêtre sur le jardin of 1938 first on this disc again thwarts any listener wanting to follow the evolution of his idiom. I concede that attractive programme-building should take precedence over musicological concerns in the planning of a CD, but I can't see that it would have made much difference here. Even though neither of these releases contains any of Maninů's truly outstanding piano scores - the three books of Études and Polkas, the Fantaisie et Toccata, the Sonata - both present music that is unfailingly attractive and alternatively caresses and teases the ear.

Giorgio Koukl is a reliable guide to Maninů's piano output: he has a keen sense of rhythm and a good ear for piano sonority. These recordings, co-productions with the Italian branch of radio Svizzera, give him a rounded piano tone in an acoustic that suggests a rather more natural space than a radio studio. Mark Gresham supplies succinct but informative booklet notes.

Steve Arloff
MusicWeb International, February 2007

If, like me, you adore Martinu’s music you will love this disc, the first of Naxos’s projected complete survey of his music for piano. This comprises around eighty of his total of over four hundred works. Martinu’s highly individual and easily identifiable style is evident in every piece, all but one written during his time in Paris, where he studied with Albert Roussel. However, his writing for solo piano is considerably less well known than his orchestral and chamber works, his symphonies, concertos and quartets having found firm places in the repertoire in the last twenty years. It is to be hoped that this series will help to place these works where they should be: along with the piano music of his contemporaries such as Szymanowski, Shostakovich and Bartók whose outputs in that genre are already well known and well loved.

The disc begins with his eight preludes of 1929 and immediately Martinu’s recognisable signature is evident as is his fondness for the jazz idiom, but with a central European perspective. This is something other Czech composers like Schulhoff enjoyed exploring and this combination of jazz rhythms and Czech folk-like tunes makes the music very appealing and accessible. “Window on the Garden” was written in 1938 at a small cottage in Vieux Moulin, a small window of which looked out into the garden planted with roses given to Martinu’s wife Charlotte by artist friend Jan Zrzavý. They are charming miniatures, concise, economic but complete in themselves and full of invention.

“Fables” comprises five pieces dating from 1923 and using titles that suggest animals that might appear in such stories rather than any actual folk tales. They have a charming almost naïve quality about them. The “Three Sketches” and “Le Noël”, though both written in 1927, couldn’t be more dissimilar, “Le Noël” being a delightful portrayal of Christmas whilst the “Three Sketches” are highly stylised interpretations of Blues, Tango and Charleston.

The “Dance Sketches” of 1932 show how Martinu had evolved into a fully mature composer with a style distilled from his Czech roots, his influences taken from Stravinsky and his mentor Albert Roussel. Nevertheless they show an originality all his own. The final offering is his “Foxtrot” of 1920 and the only work on this recording dating from his time in his birthplace Policka, before leaving for France. This is a charming little gem that sounds as fresh today as when it was written 87 years ago. It shows how far-seeing his musical style was – think of it as Scott Joplin with a twist.

The pianist, Czech-born, but Swiss citizen, Giorgio Koukl, brings off the whole recital with great aplomb and makes a powerful case for the wider dissemination of these works. A joyous disc!

Patrick C Waller
MusicWeb International, December 2006

The title of this disc promises a complete series of Martinu’s piano music. If so, it will be the first for, although Emil Leichner’s 3-CD set on Supraphon (SU36562) claims to be “complete”, it clearly is not, excluding three of the pieces listed above: Fables, Le Noël and Foxtrot. The documentation here suggests that there are about eighty works to be covered, presumably counting each individual piece within the various series as a “work”. At a guess – and it is a pity Naxos doesn’t provide this information – the series will probably run to four CDs. My only previous experience of the genre comes from a 1988 RCA disc (RD87987) on which Rudolf Firkušný, who knew the composer well, played the 1954 Piano Sonata and various other works, none of which feature here. That was re-issued in 2003 alongside the Piano Concertos Nos. 2-4 and is well-worth acquiring. The present disc focuses on miniatures from the period 1920-1938, most of which the composer spent in Paris. There is some influence from American jazz but French influences are greater here and Martinu’s characteristic style was not yet fully developed in the earlier works. The opening eight preludes were written in 1929 and by a curious coincidence Messiaen also wrote eight preludes in the same year. Those were much influenced by Debussy and Martinu’s preludes are more challenging to the pianist and the ear. They were dedicated to Charlotte Quennehen who became his wife two year later. The pastoral Fenêtre sur le jardin dates from 1938, is in four short movements and more immediately recognisable as by Martinu. Written whilst staying in a cottage, the view from the window was of a garden of roses but life was about to change for Martinu; on Firkušný’s advice he soon left for the USA via Portugal. Fables is a series of five very brief, innocent sounding works based on animal themes. Dating from 1923, perhaps they were written with children in mind. Equally brief but of more interest are the Esquisses (sketches), marked Tempo di Blues, di Tango and di Charleston respectively. The latter is a delightful and striking romp lasting 1:18. Le Noël was written in the same year (1927) and begins with The Sledge, has a central lullaby and a lively carol to finish. The five Esquisses de Danses (dance sketches) date from 1932 and rank alongside Fenêtre sur le jardin as the most notable pieces on the disc. The second and fourth sketches are reflective and in relatively slow tempi, the latter a waltz. The others have allegro markings and the last is particularly spirited. The Foxtrot which closes the programme is one of two written in 1920. It is surprising we aren’t given the other one here for comparison but it makes for a memorable conclusion. Played blind, there should definitely be a prize to anyone who can guess the composer here. Pianist Giorgio Koukl originally hails from Prague but left in the troubles of 1968 and is now based in Switzerland. He first came across Martinu’s music in a masterclass given by Rudolf Firkušný. Technically fine, he plays with great rhythmic control and does not seek to impose himself on the music. Assuming he will be our guide through the rest of the series, I have little doubt he will prove a reliable one. He is aided by excellent recorded sound and the issue is well-documented. Another worthy projected series is up-and-running from Naxos – they should certainly be giving this one high priority. This is attractive music with considerable merits and experience of Firkušný’s marvellous record suggests that there are even better things to come.

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