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Martin Anderson
Fanfare, November 2010

Ashkenazy[’s]...Martinů CD for Ondine shows a complete identification with the composer’s style; in fact, it’s one of the most successful matches of music and musician I have come across in years.

Guy Rickards
Gramophone, January 2010

As fine a Martinů release as has been released in this 50th anniversary year

The late Lionel Salter said, in these pages in 1959,of Martinů’s Les fresques de Piero della Francesca (1955), that it was “an inflated, overscored, thick and graceless pudding of a work”, an opinion time perhaps has now shown to be thick and graceless itself. Martinů composed it in tribute to the luminous frescoes of the Italian master in the church of San Francesco in Arezzo and responded with a score of impressionist colour and intensity, its sound world utterly different from the Sixth Symphony, Fantaisies symphoniques, that preceded it by only a couple of years. I have not been aware hitherto of Ashkenazy as a Martinů interpreter but he responds to its rich and radiant atmosphere with a reading of real verve.

It separates two of the finest Martinů concerto performances to have come my way for some time. Rudolf Firkušný recorded both concertos for RCA with Libor Pešek (nla), performances not really surpassed by Leichner or, in No 4, Josef Paleniček (nla). Robert Kolinsky, on the other hand, has both the measure of these works technically and emotionally, both the Parisian neo-classical chic of No 2 (1934) and the rawer, elemental power of Incantation (1956). In terms of durations, he is not so different from competitors past and present but internally the tempi are often more varied, fresher and more alive—which is just what these new accounts are.

Ashkenazy starts with a bracing, lithe-limbed account of the 1953 Overture, with its concerto grosso-style group of soloists. Ondine’s recording comes into its own in detailing with superb lightness and precision the nuances of Martina’s scoring, a feature present throughout. The Basle Symphony Orchestra play superbly. Thoroughly recommended.

David Hurwitz, December 2009

The two piano concertos receive splendid performances, and they are marvelous works—certainly two of the finest 20th-century compositions for piano and orchestra. No. 2 combines memorably lyrical thematic material with a real opposition of personalities between piano (chromatic, full of wit) and orchestra (sweetly diatonic). No. 4 is a remarkable piece, almost athematic but full of arresting sounds and textures, written in two formally fluid movements. It’s a mesmerizing work, and Robert Kolinsky plays the piano part with a winning combination of improvisational fantasy and firm rhythm. He’s just as convincing in the Second concerto’s rapid-fire exchanges between piano and orchestra, while Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Basel orchestra accompany colorfully.

The late Overture, a bouncy seven-minute concerto grosso, opens the disc in high spirits, and the only small disappointment comes in the form of Ashkenazy’s slightly droopy reading of The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca. He certainly relishes the music’s luminous textures, but particularly in the first movement Martinu’s syncopated rhythms need sharper articulation and a touch more energy. Ancerl, for example, is a bit quicker, slightly more focused, and it makes all the difference. Still, for the concertos alone this well-engineered disc deserves very serious consideration. Recommended.

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