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Penguin Guide, January 2009

This is part of a new Naxos survey of the composer’s ‘complete piano music’. Much of it is early, but no one could say that the three sets of Puppets (written between 1912 and 1924) are not both engaging and original; and the same could be said of the suite for children, Spring in the Garden (1920). The highlights of the programme, however, are Butterflies and Birds of Paradise, written in the same year, and Les bouquinistes (booksellers) du Quai Malaquais. Giorgio Koukl might at times have produced a lighter touch, but he is very well recorded and this looks to be an indispensable new series.

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

Gillian Wills
Limelight, July 2007

These psychologically astute readings certainly capture the poignancy and aura of longing, the nostalgia and the exiledom that seems to ring through Martinu’s music. This is the second CD in the Martinu Complete Piano Music series. Breezing through the musical and technical challenges and using formidable skill to fashion convincing, finely-nuanced performances, Koukl derserves to be listened to and praised. Martinu wrote 400 pieces of music, 80 for the piano. While he was not a pianist, this collection is framed idiomatically for the instrument, exploring a bountiful landscape of colour, touch and tone.

Jed Distler, May 2007

Volume 2 of pianist Giorgio Koukl’s complete Martinu cycle begins with the three books of Puppets, composed between 1912 and 1924. These charming miniatures aim to depict the commedia dell’arte stock characters, who strut their stuff to caricatured dances that range from salon waltzes to roaring ’20s jazz. Popular song and dance assertively inform the six pieces comprising Film en miniature, and might best be described as the missing link between Prokofiev and Poulenc. The same might be said about Les bouquinistes du Quai Malaquais, although its stark unison octave phrases and passages utilizing register extremes bear Martinu’s individual stamp.

The four-movement Butterflies and Birds of Paradise represents Martinu’s most tuneful, accessible style, while the composer’s own brand of impressionism informs both Fifth Day of the Fifth Moon (a haunting work cast in pentatonic pastels) and Spring in the Garden’s concluding piece.

As with Volume 1, there’s plenty to admire in Koukl’s technically solid and stylistically perceptive performances. In pieces that rely on rhythmic propulsion, Koukl tailors his tempos as if he were playing for dancers as opposed to piano competition jurors. He also plays more lyrical, introspective selections well, although I marginally prefer Emil Leichner’s more delicately shaded and articulated way with The Shy Puppet and the Sick Puppet (Supraphon). Similarly, Leichner’s gracious and intimate traversal of The Sentimental Puppet’s Waltz markedly contrasts to Koukl’s brisker (and decidedly unsentimental) approach. Yet on the whole, Koukl’s overall artistry and wider color palette, helped by Naxos’ superior engineering, take top honors.

Guy Rickards
Gramophone, May 2007

A fascinating selection of Martinu’s early piano works, plus two late trifles

In his classic biography of Martinu (Allen Wingate: 1962), Milos Šafránek states that in “the large and varied assortment of youthful works and experiments, Puppets holds a singular and significant place”. Composed in three sets between 1912 and 1924 (but published in reverse sequence; they are played here in chronological order), Puppets sounds anything but experimental now, though for Martinu’s hometown of Policka just after the Great War, the somewhat Satiesque charms of these 14 pieces must have seemed highly modern.

Heard with the innocent ear, most listeners would be hard put to identify the composer of Puppets and I suspect the same applies for another of the novelties here, the pretty, if flimsy, children’s suite Spring in the Garden (1920). This is no match for what Mark Gresham calls “the bold, jazzy and propulsive” Film en miniature (1925), one of the first products of Martinu’s Paris sojourn. The pearl of Koukl’s programme, though, is Butterflies and Birds of Paradise, written at Christmas of the same year as Spring in the Garden but light years ahead of it in quality. Here Martinu uses impressionism as if born to it.

Still, none of these early pieces, nor even The Fifth Day of the Fifth Moon (1948, dedicated to Tcherepnin’s wife and the only work otherwise available) really sound like the mature Martinu. Only in the 29th and final track, The Booksellers of the Quai Malaquais (1948; dedicated to the composer’s wife) do we encounter one of those heart-stopping themes familiar from the symphonies. Koukl’s performances, occasionally a little over-robust, as in Butterflies, are very warmly recorded but this is a splendid disc despite that. Recommended.

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