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Stephen Johnson
BBC Music Magazine, October 2010

Koukl understands the ebb and flow of these volatile works well and is certainly up to their technical demands.

James A. Altena
Fanfare, July 2010

This is the first of what will be two CDs devoted to the concerted works for piano and orchestra of Bohuslav Martinů; the second will offer Concertos Nos. 1, 2, and 4. While Martinů’s music bears the mantle of Leoš Janáček’s succession—for example, in its creation of tension by frequent use of a rapidly repeated ascending or descending triplet figure against a duple time signature—it is never imitative. With its neoclassical angularities imaginatively spiced by distinctively Czech harmony and rhythm, it bears that most elusive stamp of genius, the immediately identifiable, unique, and memorable voice. While he did produce the occasional potboiler, at his best Martinu has something of substance to say, and says it very well.

The three pieces presented here span 20 years, spaced roughly a decade apart. The earliest, the Concertino, dates from 1938, and was written toward the close of the composer’s years in Paris. There is a saucy mood to the opening Allegro, a kind of edgy, ironic, tongue-in-cheek quality that one also finds in the music of Poulenc. The Largo that follows begins quietly, almost pensively, but gradually progresses to a stormy and raucous climax with clangorous tolling piano chords before subsiding again. In the concluding Allegro, a jaunty, spiky opening theme briefly gives way to a broader, lyrical second subject before reasserting itself and galloping on to a waggish close.

The Concerto No. 3 dates from 1947, and its more somber mood reflects Martinů’s experience of the war years and flight to exile in the United States. The first two movements, unusually weighty and earnest in mood for the composer, recall the opening Maestoso of the Brahms D-Minor Concerto rechanneled into a 20th-century Czech idiom. The finale, by contrast, brings a complete change of mood. It begins with a brief, merry, dance-like theme that could have been penned by Dvořák, and then takes off into a virtual moto perpetuo on the piano, driven by an undercurrent of repeated 16th notes, and interrupted by an extended cadenza before charging on to the finish line.

The Concerto No. 5 was written in 1958, shortly after Martinů had emigrated to Switzerland. An Allegro in sonata form opens with a fiercely declamatory and discordant statement disrupted by frequent interjections from the percussion. The sweeping, song-like second subject, reminiscent of Janáček, is played on strings against a cascading waterfall of piano notes, and the two themes tussle with one another up to a sudden and surprisingly upbeat conclusion. The succeeding Andante opens with mysterious, treading chords, like a blind bard striking his lyre in a desperate attempt to summon his muse, again occasionally punctuated by interludes of inner strife. In the Finale, a rapidly repeated triplet figure, again reminiscent of Janáček, is a recurring motif underlying a kaleidoscopic array of thematic fragments, some new and some recalled from the preceding movements…these are wonderful pieces that belong in every music lover’s library.

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, May 2010

…this CD is a good way to add these concertos at a very affordable price…Giorgio Koukl, clearly has the measure of the pieces and projects them about as well as one could wish. Both he and conductor Fagen have considerable experience in Martinů’s music. The orchestra also accompanies well.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, April 2010

…The 5th Concerto was composed for the Swiss pianist Margrit Weber (Stravinsky wrote his Movements for piano and orchestra for her) and it’s written in an easier language than the 3rd. Lyricism takes precedence over motor rhythms. The orchestration is richer too, though not thicker. The first movement is a kind of tortured allegro which has a very rich vein of lyricism; proof, if it were needed, that even towards the end of his life Martinů could produce a work so full of life. The middle movement is a kind of disturbed night music enclosed within a chorale. The finale, although fast, isn’t one of his insistent moto perpetuos, rather it’s easy-going, again full of the life spirit. Koukl…gives an especially fine interpretation of the slow movement…The Concertino is an earlier work and has a little of the Martinů of the 1920s Paris years, but with a deeply searching slow movement—a very serious section within a lightish piece…this issue will give a lot of pleasure…

Guy Rickards
Gramophone, March 2010

Buoyant and exuberant performances…Koukl receives splendid support [from the orchestra] under Arthur Fagen and Naxos’s sound is first rate, clear and bright with the right balance between soloist and orchestra. Warmly recommended.

Robert Matthew-Walker
International Record Review, February 2010

In Koukl, Naxos has chosen well…This is an auspicious debut [and] extremely well played. Koukl is aided by recording quality generally of a high standard… and by an orchestral partnership under Arthur Fagen (who has recorded Martinů’s Symphonies for the label) that is—especially in the more intricate Fifth concerto—generally first class.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2010

Bohuslav Martinů’s status in today’s musical world has largely been engendered by the interest of the record industry, Naxos having played a significant part. Though he was a much travelled composer, the Second World War and the subsequent Communist regime in his Czech homeland dictated that he should spend much of his later life in the United States. It was there in 1948 that he composed the Third Piano Concerto at the behest of his compatriot and distinguished pianist, Rudolf Firkusny. Though he had studied in France, he remained quintessentially a Czech composer whose personal voice made his works readily recognisable. It is a muscular and technically demanding score, the typically jagged Martinu imprint characterising the outer movements, while the central Andante has both delicacy and a feel of animated happiness. By the time he added a Fifth Concerto, ten years later, he had moved to Switzerland at the invitation of the conductor, Paul Sacher. Though it carries the subtitle, ‘Fantasia concertante’, it is in the conventional three movements, the opening much akin to the Third Concerto, while the profusion of notes changes the feel of a ‘slow’ central Andante. The finale is a bustling and vivacious Allegro. Completing the disc we return to 1938 where the naughtiness of Paris in the 1930’s is still evident in the Concertino. It was a concerto in the making, just a little short on memorable moments, but highly enjoyable, particularly in the high impact finale. The soloist, Giorgio Koukl, has already recorded for Naxos a universally acclaimed cycle of Martinů’s solo piano music. He is brilliant, the virtuoso demands never evident in the precision of his playing. Big dynamic range and an accompaniment to match comes from the outstanding Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra. Immaculate sound quality.

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