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Lee Passarella
Audiophile Audition, October 2012

MARTINU, B.: Revue de cuisine (La) / Harpsichord Concerto / Musique de chambre No. 1 / Les rondes (Hill, Holst Sinfonietta, Simon) 8.572485
RIISAGER, K.: Symphonic Edition, Vol. 1 (Aarhus Symphony, Holten) - Symphony No. 1 / Danish Pictures 8.226146

…Martinů helped reinvent the harpsichord as a perfect vehicle for neo-Classical expression. The Harpsichord Concerto is spiky, brittle, with the requisite driving rhythms…Chamber Music No. 1…has Impressionistic overtones…a certain dreaminess that recalls the late chamber pieces of Debussy…

…[in] the ballet Le revue de cuisine, subtitled Ballet du Jazz…Pot and Lid are reunited to general rejoicing in the form of a lively final dance.

…Martinů’s jaunty score…deserves to be heard. Its jazz influences are pretty convincing…The music is attractive and quite inventive in spots, reason enough to get this disc, though of course the enticements don’t stop there. Le revue de cuisine has been recorded before, but I doubt any more piquantly than in this bright-eyed performance from Simon and his Freiburg-based band…The Holst-Sinfonietta specializes in contemporary music and appears to have a natural affinity and sympathy for Martinů. Harpsichordist Robert Hill also deserves kudos for his alert playing in the Concerto. Naxos’s sound is as bright and lively as the performances. A definite winner. © 2012 Audiophile Audition Read complete review

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, August 2012

It is curious that it took so long to issue this most delightful collection of Martinů works for chamber orchestra. After all, they were recorded in 2009, and there is not a dud among the twenty-two tracks. Martinů excelled in these small-scale works to a greater degree, I would say, than in the larger forms such as the symphonies. The program here is really varied and contains pieces from both ends of his career. The best known of these is surely the ballet, La revue de cuisine, except here for the first time we get the whole ballet instead of the usual four selections: Prologue, Tango, Charleston and Finale. This adds only an extra six minutes or so, but every one of them is delicious. Once heard in its entirety, the shorter suite will never seem adequate again. Members of the Holst-Sinfonietta…with players from South Germany, perform the work to the manner born. It is scored for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano, violin and cello. The various soloists are superb throughout.

The other works are equally attractive. The disc begins with one of Martinů’s neo-baroque concertos, this one for harpsichord with other solo instruments in the manner of a concerto grosso. Yet the harpsichord is the dominant voice and at times reminds one of Bach’s keyboard concertos. It is a most tuneful and infectious piece and receives a fine performance from harpsichordist Robert Hill and the other musicians. The concerto is followed by one of the composer’s last works, the Chamber Music No. 1 for clarinet, harp, piano and string trio. It is more astringent than usual for Martinů and has rather dense textures which contrast with more folk-like passages in the first movement that have something of Copland’s Appalachian Spring about them, before returning to the dissonant themes that begin the movement. The second movement, marked Andante moderato, is gentler and more atmospheric, evoking the nocturne part of the subtitle. Near the start of the third movement there is a clarinet melody that pre-echoes a theme in John Adams’ Gnarly Buttons clarinet concerto. After that the tempo picks up and is more typical of Martinů in his happy, consonant mode, before the Adams-like clarinet makes its reappearance. The work ends on a light-hearted, positive note.

The third work on the CD may just be the most interesting and unusual of all. As Simon notes, Les rondes refers to the “round dances of the Russian chorovod”. Les rondes is a delightful piece delectably performed here with its elements of jazz, Stravinskian dance rhythms and bi-tonality familiar from Milhaud. Yet, it all comes out in the end sounding like Martinů. It would make a fine addition to a chamber music concert and should be much better known.

The performances here are first rate as is the vibrant recorded sound. The instrumentalists all receive due recognition in the notes and it would be churlish of me to single out any one of them—such is the excellence of the ensemble. Furthermore, Klaus Simon clearly has the measure of Martinů’s music. This generously filled disc will appeal to all lovers of Martinů’s music. I look forward to hearing more from this ensemble in other music as well. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Paul Corfield Godfrey
MusicWeb International, August 2012

The Harpsichord Concerto, like contemporaneous works by Falla and Martin, was written with a ‘big’ harpsichord sound in mind, the type of instrument played by Wanda Landowska in the 1930s, rather than more modern ‘period’ reconstructions. What Robert Hill plays here, however, sounds more like a smaller baroque instrument which has been brought forward into the recorded balance and amplified. This enables the instrument to be clearly heard, but the closeness of the sound does not give the recording much sense of space; the piano which also features in the score sounds much more naturally balanced. For this concerto the best performance probably comes from Zuzana Ruzičková on an old 1969 Supraphon recording where a rather grand-sounding harpsichord is better matched with the orchestra in a more naturally balanced acoustic; but one does note that Martinů does specify a “small orchestra”—really an enlarged chamber ensemble—and the Holst Sinfonietta are probably closer to the scale he had in mind.

The even smaller-scale Fêtes nocturnes are given a more natural acoustic in the performance here, and like many of the works Martinů wrote towards the end of his life they make a charming impression. As the booklet note observes, these are gentle and atmospheric pieces in which the composer looks back to the music of his Czech youth, and it is noteworthy as the only piece of chamber music by Martinů which employs the harp.

For the last two works on this CD we go back to Martinů’s earlier years when jazz was a strong influence on his music. Les rondes at the beginning shows a close affinity in style with Stravinsky’s The soldier’s tale but later Janáček also comes to mind. One is not altogether surprised to find that Martinů originally entitled the piece Moravian Dances.

La revue de cuisine…is a real charmer. The plot is ridiculously silly even by Martinů’s often indiscriminate standards, but it clearly inspired him and he produced some highly entertaining music. Hogwood’s reconstruction adds only some five minutes of music which were not included in the suite, but they are well worth hearing. The one substantial unfamiliar movement is the Marche funèbre which leaves one at a loss to decide why Martinů decided to exclude it from his suite; the whole score fits together like a nicely tailored glove. The performances both here and in Les rondes are excellent, with just the right sort of jazzy sleaziness; and the recording acoustic is both clear and atmospheric.

Well worth exploration. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

WRUV Reviews, July 2012

This recording is dedicated to the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů and celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of his passing. Martinů was a very versatile composer who worked quickly and published a large body of work. This entire album has a very contemporary sound due to the composer’s penchant for jazz and varied tempos and rhythms. The combination of a featured harpsichord accompanied by small orchestra is somewhat unique. © 2012 WRUV Reviews Read complete review

Robert Benson, July 2012

Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) is featured on this splendid new Naxos issue featuring chamber music composed throughout his career, mostly very brief pieces far removed from the grandeur and emotion of his six symphonies. Earliest is the delightful brief jazz ballet Le revue de cuisine from 1927…I couldn’t find any reference to actual performances of this music as a ballet; it must be charming to see as dancers dressed as a pot, a broom, a lid, a twirling stick, and a dishcloth. Les rondes dates from 1920, a series of dances inspired by Russian music, and Chamber Music No. 1, one of his final works, was written in 1959, a gentle work he called “Les fetes nocturnes.”…this is a charming, small-scale work. Excellent performances throughout, with well-balanced, clear stereo sound. © 2012 Read complete review

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, July 2012

Written between 1927 and 1959, the works for chamber orchestra by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) on this new Naxos release show four main influences. These are the folk music of his native country, the impressionism and neoclassicism of composers he associated with during his years in Paris (1923-1940), and finally jazz, which became the rage in Europe during the 1920s and 30s.

The first selection is the Concerto for Harpsichord and Small Orchestra of 1935, which follows in the footsteps of Francis Poulenc’s (1899-1963) Concerto champêtre (1927-28) and foreshadows Frank Martin’s (1890-1974) Petite symphonie concertante (1945). In three movements the opening allegro [track-1] begins with a wiry neoclassical (WN) theme [00:01] in the orchestra that includes a piano for a little extra percussive color.

The harpsichord picks up on WN, and a brief development ensues with those marvelous rocking Martinů modulations [01:07]. Next the soloist introduces a more rhapsodic idea [02:22] which becomes the subject of a chromatic game of catch between harpsichord and orchestra. WN is then recapped [04:11], and after a brief cadenza, the movement ends like it started.

The adagio commences with ornate Baroque-like passages for the soloist. It then takes on the aspect of a love song with some winsome passages for flute and piano, only to close by chasing its own tail in Vivaldi (1678-1741) fashion.

The concluding allegretto is a thrilling virtuosic showpiece for the harpsichord, that’s urged on to bigger and better things by the piano. Full of that kinetic energy characterizing Martinů’s music, it ends the concerto on a real high.

Written the year he died, Chamber Music No. 1 (1959), also known as Les Fêtes nocturnes (Night Festivals), is scored for clarinet, harp, piano and string trio. In three sections, impressionistic influences are rife bringing to mind Debussy’s (1862-1918) Nocturnes (1900) and Danse sacrée et danse profane (Sacred and Profane Danses, 1904).

The first allegretto [track-4] has those buzzing insectile riffs [00:34 and 00:48] that are a trademark of this composer. The andante [track-5] could be the musical representation of a Cézanne (1839-1906) landscape with hints of the cuckoo [01:48] in Saint-Saëns’ (1835-1921) Carnival of the Animals (1886). The whimsical final allegro [track-6] alludes to one of those captivating Czech melodies [01:56] that make Martinů so instantly recognizable.

And speaking of folk music, the next piece from 1930 was originally titled Moravian Dances, but later renamed Les rondes (Rounds). Possibly inspired by Janácek’s (1854-1928) Lachian Dances (1925), French and jazz influences are also to be found in this six-part suite.

Scored for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano and two violins, there’s a twitchy neoclassical sparseness about the animated opening suggestive of Stravinsky’s (1882-1971) L’Histoire du soldat (1920). The three dances that follow are an Eastern European slow-step, fidgety Charlestown…and a furtive waltz. The work then ends with a sad saraband, and a hectic hora.

The disc closes with the rarely heard complete version of the jazz ballet La revue de cuisine (The Kitchen Revue, 1927) scored for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano, violin and cello. Recently reconstructed by Martinů authority, conductor Christopher Hogwood…there are six additional numbers besides the four in the commonly performed suite.

With a culinary scenario where the dancers are a pot, lid, whisk, dishcloth, and broom (see the album notes), it will appeal to those liking 1920s and 30s popular music. Highlights include a sprightly folk-song-spiked “pas de pot and whisk” [track-15], as well as an amorous tango [track-17] presaging Ravel’s (1875-1937) Boléro (1928).

There’s also a duel between the broom and dishcloth that turns into an infectious Charleston [track-18]. This is followed by a droll funeral march [track-20] with what sounds like a reference [02:07] to the fate motif at the beginning of Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) fourth symphony (1877)? The ballet ends with a couple of joyful ensemble numbers [track-21 and 22] recalling all the major ingredients—Julia Child (1912-2004) would have loved it!

American harpsichordist Robert Hill plays the concerto to perfection, receiving splendid support from the Holst-Sinfonietta (H-S) of Freiburg, Germany under its founder and conductor Klaus Simon. The H-S musicians are each virtuosos in their own right, and give sparkling accounts of the other selections. Herr Simon wears two hats in Les rondes where he’s also the pianist. There are other recordings of these pieces, but superb performances and a bargain price put this disc at the top of the list.

A co-production with Southwest German Radio, this was made in their Freiburg Schlossbergsaal studio. The recordings project suitably proportioned soundstages in a neutral acoustic. The instrumental timbre is pleasing with sparkling highs…The spacing and balance between the soloists seems well-judged for each of the different ensembles present. © 2012 Classical Lost and Found Read complete review

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, July 2012

What is at hand for our listening pleasure is a Naxos…release by the Holst-Sinfonietta, Klaus Simon conducting and on piano, with Robert Hill as harpsichord soloist.

They are works for chamber orchestra, each with a unique stylistic imprint. The Concerto for Harpsichord and Small Orchestra…shows the influence of neo-classic period Stravinsky without a resorting to a direct imitation. It’s jaunty and absorbing.

The rendition of La revue de cuisine: Ballet du Jazz…gives us the complete ten movements of the pivotal score. It’s the most syncopated, jazz-influenced music of the lot…there is much fine music to be savored, and La revue de cuisine belongs there with the best of them.

Thoroughly enjoyable, bursting with charm and dash, these are works that give us a Martinu not often encountered in recorded form. Maestros Hill, Simon and the Holst-Sinfonietta do an excellent job recreating the spirit of these works. It’s the sort of brighten-your-day early-mid modern chamber music you will probably find yourself gravitating towards for many listens, if you are like me. Thoroughly recommended. © 2012 Gapplegate Classcial-Modern Music Review Read complete review

David Hurwitz, July 2012

All of this music has been recorded before, and quite well, but these performances rank with the best by and large. Conductor Klaus Simon paces each piece just about perfectly, and the members of the Holst-Sinfonietta lend their considerable virtuosity to Martinů’s consistently inventive writing.

One attraction seriously worth considering is the fact that this disc contains the recently re-discovered complete version of the ballet La revue de cuisine. There’s not a lot more to add, only about six minutes in all…but it’s such a fun piece that every extra minute is worth having…this is a mostly terrific disc of totally terrific music. © 2012 Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2012

Recorded in 2009 by South-West German Radio to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Bohuslav Martinu’s death, the four chamber works are drawn from much of his life. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1890, strife in Europe through two world wars were to fragment his life, his later years spent in the United States and Switzerland. Yet his music never lost its sense of fun as the disc exhibits. We start here in 1927 with the jazz ballet, La revue de cuisine, the lovable story of strife among kitchen utensils with a happy ending. Until quite recently it was known in its version as a suite, but the original score has been discovered, all ten sections now included in this recording. We go forward three years to Les rondes, a score originally given the title Moravian Dances, a description that would seem more apt, as it is folk-music orientated. Its six quite short sections add up to fifteen minutes and are indebted to Janacek. Five years later we come to the Harpsichord Concerto, a work fashioned in his neo-classical period. Every recorded performance I have heard fails to realistically balance the sound of the harpsichord with the chamber orchestra, usually exaggerated its weight, this one placing it rather backwards. In three movements, it conventionally falls into a fast-slow-fast format, its central Adagio a beautiful moment for the keyboard. Finally to the year of his death in 1959 for the Chamber Music No. 1, a work that is almost a Piano Concertino, its thematic material shared with his opera, The Greek Passion, written at the same time. Superb playing from the German based Holst-Sinfonietta, and highly detailed recorded sound. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

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