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David Hurwitz, January 2015

Fenwick Smith is a very capable player with a full, appealing timbre, and he’s very ably partnered by pianist Sally Pinkas…and the entire program has plenty of color, variety, and the necessary idiomatic blend of rhythmic snap and easy lyricism. © 2015 Read complete review

James A. Altena
Fanfare, March 2011

Extremely prolific, Bohuslav Martinů composed almost 400 works, including a great many songs and pieces for piano and a wide array of chamber ensembles. In the sampling presented on this CD, the flute is given a star turn in three of the four pieces, while serving as an equal partner in the Sextet.

The Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano, composed in 1936 and consisting of four movements, demonstrates the overt influence of Ravel and of Martinů’s mentor Roussel. It opens with a chipper, cheeky Allegro poco moderato, followed by a pastoral Adagio in 3/4 time. Next comes an energetic Allegretto, a scherzo and trio in standard A-B-A form, with syncopated rhythms and accents suggestive of both Czech dance music and jazz, two idioms frequently used by the composer throughout his career. The concluding Moderato opens with an extended and somewhat discordant piano solo, followed by several discrete sections that, for this listener at least, do not cohere; this rather unsatisfying movement seems like a needless add-on that does not fit with the rest of the work, which forms a quite satisfying whole without it. As so often with Martinů, there are numerous quirky little byways at various points that bring to mind Robert Frost’s allusion to roads not taken.

The Flute Sonata from 1945 has a traditional three-movement fast-slow-fast layout. The initial Allegro Moderato is immediately recognizable as quintessential Martinů in its angular melodic and harmonic contours, followed by a solemn, stately Adagio. Reflecting the composer’s years of exile in the U.S. during World War II, the closing Allegro poco moderato suggests the influence of American dance rhythms à la Aaron Copland before passing to a whirlwind of runs and flurries. At several points it incorporates the call of the whippoorwill, heard by Martinů at various locales in New England.

An early work dating from 1929, the five-movement Sextet for Piano and Winds opens with a Preludium: Poco andante that presents a series of shifting moods, difficult to capture and describe. The succeeding Adagio, darker, more meditative, is slightly reminiscent of Sibelius. Succeeding this are two dance movements marked Scherzo: Allegro vivo and Blues, respectively sub-captioned Divertimento I and II, both characterized by spiky, jazzy rhythms and cascading runs. A spirited, upbeat Allegro finale brings the piece to an ebullient close.

The three-movement Trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano from 1944 is close kin to the Flute Sonata of the following year. A Poco allegretto opening has a genial spirit and infectious motoric rhythms. The following Adagio starts in a quietly reflective mood and then shifts to a more declamatory bardic vein before coming to a peaceful close. After a brief slow introduction, the concluding Andante-Allegretto scherzando launches its main section with a turbulent, running first theme that alternates with a more measured second subject, though energetic bustle predominates throughout.

These are extremely able performances that fully capture all the elusive quicksilver elements of the composer’s style. Flutist Fenwick Smith has a bright, penetrating tone that is never harsh or shrill, and has a sure rapport with his various colleagues. The sound quality and booklet notes are up to typical solid Naxos standards. As far as recorded competition is concerned, there are more than 20 recordings in print of the Flute Sonata, mostly in mixed flute anthology CDs rather than discs devoted to Martinů; thus one’s choice may be primarily determined by the couplings, though as an individual performance this is competitive with any others I’ve heard. I prefer the present performance to any of these; it is more energetic than the Feinstein, and far more characterful than the glibly superficial and harshly recorded Dartington traversal (defects afflicting that entire two-CD set). In sum, this is a top-drawer recommendation for anyone attracted either to Martinů or to 20th-century flute chamber music repertoire.

Todd Gorman
American Record Guide, January 2011

In the Flute Sonata, Smith and Pinkas give the most interesting slow movement I’ve ever heard. The outer movements are well done, too.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, November 2010

It’s rather unusual, and therefore welcome, to find a disc devoted so squarely to Martinů’s chamber works involving the flute. Normally one finds that companies prefer a more across the board approach, mixing the flute works with, say, the Madrigal sonatas or with La Revue de Cuisine or with the Nonet. Or one finds a presentation of the Czech composer’s works in the context of near contemporaries, such as Poulenc and Prokofiev, in an exploration specifically of the powerfully attractive Flute Sonata. So, it’s pleasing to find a disc such as this, which has the confidence to focus closely.

The Sonata for flute, violin and piano H.254 was written in 1936 and dedicated to the wife of Marcel Moÿse, whose husband, Marcel, gave the premiere in a ‘family affair’ performance with Louis Moÿse and Blanche Moÿse Honegger. Interestingly a 1938 performance by this august trio has survived and was issued on a Martinů Society promotional CD in 2005. The present Naxos performance is good but sounds somewhat ‘sewing machine’ in places, especially in comparison with the more specialised Gallic charm of the older trio’s performance. The slow movement, though, has tenderness and a real sense of affection and it seems pedantic, given the finesse of the playing, to note that the Moÿse performance had a more aloofly yielding introspection in this movement. Where I do feel a decided superiority in the older performance is in the finale, where the Naxos trio make rather too much of a contrast when moving into the B section; it sounds much better when, as with the Moÿse, you slide into it without too much fuss.

Probably the best known of the quartet in this selection is the Flute Sonata. Fenwick Smith and Sally Pinkas are assured guides but take a decidedly less incisive approach…Perhaps the Naxos duo honour the finale’s Allegro poco moderato injunction just a touch better in the slightly steadier tempo they adopt…

The Sextet for piano and winds is the earliest work here, dating from 1929. It’s cast in five brief movements, and utilises baroque punctuation adeptly. There’s a beautiful Adagio, and a Blues in which the bassoon imitates a night club saxophone; then a vivacious finale. This Sextet reminds us of La Revue de Cuisine, especially in its use of the vampy and Stride-patterned piano contributions and the infectious liveliness of the writing. The Trio for flute, cello and piano H.300 (1944) is an attractive work, and sports one truly memorable idea—the flute recitative over accompanying cello pizzicato figures. It’s a fluid and leisurely piece, in all respects, not from the top drawer but marked by consummate craftsmanship.

Well recorded over a period of years in two locations, these performances have been artfully brought together. None is a front-ranker, quite, but all are highly personable.

Patsy Morita, September 2010

This Naxos release of just a few of the chamber works by Bohuslav Martinů includes all the larger works involving the flute and piano, and despite any weightiness that statement implies, and despite the formal titles and structures of these works, there is more whimsy in these than the unsuspecting listener might expect. Martinů is considered a Czech composer, although he spent much of his career abroad, and like other Czech composers, he frequently uses elements of folk music. However, his music seems to have been equally influenced by French modern music. The results of the combination of those things, in this chamber music, are animated energy, clean lines, and tinges of Impressionistic colorings or jazz harmonies, all of which can be recognized in these performances featuring flutist Fenwick Smith, pianist Sally Pinkas, and their Boston-based colleagues. The liveliness of Martinů’s writing comes primarily from his use of brief rhythmic patterns, based on Czech folk dances or sounds of nature—as in the last movement of the Flute Sonata—or jazz. Those short patterns are repeatedly used and are skillfully developed. The Sextet has the most elements borrowed from the jazz world, especially in the Divertimento movements. The second one, entitled Blues, is not what Americans would think of as blues, just as the Blues movement Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 2 isn’t. The Sextet’s theme is played by the bassoon to sound like saxophone, but it’s as much Eastern European lament as it is jazz. In other places, the French aspects are clearest. The Adagio of the Trio for flute, cello, and piano, is very reminiscent of Ravel’s adagios. Another key to the energy of the music, is contrast: between lyrical and spirited passages; between the timbres of the instruments. Smith, Pinkas, and the other musicians here are all used to playing in ensembles so that they know the significance of being able to work together yet give one part more of the spotlight when necessary, and to bring out the diverse elements and influences in Martinů’s music yet make each movement and work a cohesive whole. Most importantly of all, they sound as if they are enjoying it all themselves.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2010

Bohuslav Martinů has been accused of having composed too much, but the more I hear the greater becomes my admiration of his output. He could not commit to formal study and became largely a self-taught composer completing around 120 scores over an eight year period. Then appointed as a violinist in the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, he soon realized all he had written was of little value, and in 1923 he moved to Paris as the result of a small grant, and when money ran out lived there in poverty. An opera, symphonic poems, ballets, string quartets and concertos came over the next seventeen years, his name appearing on the Nazi party ‘blacklist’ causing him to escape to the United States where he was befriended by Koussevitzky the conductor of the Boston Symphony. The present disc offers a cross-section of chamber music that features the flute and is spread over the years 1936 to 1945, the Sonata for flute, violin and piano setting the scene with Martinů’s typically jerky music, its four movements so short they could not outstay their welcome. Musically he somewhat mellowed in his American years, the outer movements decorated with the call of the indigenous bird, the whippoorwill, the work one of considerable appeal.  The Sextet of 1929 for piano and woodwinds being from his Paris days and is full of jazz inflexions, a Blues included in the five movements. We change to sadness in the opening of the Trio for flute, cello and piano, no doubt the result of war, but it eventually brightens into optimism. The disc is the idea of the outstanding Boston-based flautist, Fenwick Smith, the recordings, some dating back to 2002 being the product of the excellent American performers involved.

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