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Martinu: Violin Concerto No. 2 & Symphony No. 1
To graciously round off his time as conductor of the National Orchestra of Belgium, Walter Weller has chosen for his sixth album at the head of the Brussels-based phalanx, a composer that he holds dear to his heart, quite in keeping with his successful first Martinů album (FUG531) which was warmly received by the international press. This time he offers the listener a chronologically coherent programme.
Martinů’s Symphony Nr.1 was commissioned by Sergei Koussevitzkyfor his Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1942. This highly attractive work, marked by a slow and poignant movement hauntedby the spirit of the Lidice massacre, is dedicated to the memory of his wife Nathalie Koussevitzky.
Among the enthusiastic audience that attended the piece’s premiere was Misha Elman then at the height of his fame and success. The virtuoso immediately approached Martinů with the request that he compose a violin concerto for him. It was no sooner said than done: Martinů delivered the piece in April 1943. Lorenzo Gatto whose career has seriously taken off since being awarded second place at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in2008, defends this concerto, one of the finest written in the middle of last century, with enthusiasm and all means necessary. Noticed on Fuga Libera for two very beautiful recordings (Deconstructing the Wall–FUG565, and the Fourth Concerto which appeared on the Complete violin concertos of Vieuxtemps–FUG575), Gatto here confirms his place as one of the greatest talents of his generation. The liner notes are signed Harry Halbreich, the undisputed authority on Bohuslav Martinů.
“[Gatto] has no need to fear the heat of rivalry. His warmly communicative playing perfectly suits a work that was written for one of the last century's most tonally alluring virtuosos...Weller has a natural feel of the swaying gait of Martinu's individual rhythmic language and his conducting, allied to fine orchestral playing and exceptionally good sound, certainly makes an impact.” Gramophone Magazine, August 2012
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“Arthur Fagen and his Ukrainian orchestra give convincing accounts of both symphonies, and with the help of a sympathetic recording, they achieve that wonderfully luminous, glowing sound which is a special feature of Martinu's orchestral music.” BBC Music Magazine
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Recorded live at the Barbican in London, these recordings represent the first complete CD cycle of Martinu’s symphonies conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek. The critically acclaimed concerts were given to mark the 50th anniversary of Martinu’s death in 1959.
Martinu’s six symphonies are a major contribution to 20th-century symphonic literature, and yet are still undervalued. Spanning the years before, during and after the Second World War, they capture the turmoil, hopes and fears of the composer and his homeland – a homeland that suffered unimaginable cruelties under the Nazis. At the end of the war, Martinu was the only major Czech composer of his generation to have survived.
Yet through the underlying currents of menace in the later works, the irrepressible Czech spirit survives, and the country’s folk music is never far from the surface in these powerful and sincere works. As conductor Jiří Bělohlávek says ‘I personally love all of Martinu’s symphonies for the rich, colourful orchestration and undeniable Czech flair which always prevail in them, despite the fact that they also reflect the musical developments of their time.’
“Magic always happens when Belohlávek conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Czech works...this set of Martinu’s six symphonies, taken from Barbican concerts last season, overflows with the same qualities that make the music so endearing: heart-warming ebullience, visionary fantasy, soaring passion, the most piquant orchestral colours.” The Times, 15th July 2011 ****
**** Sunday Times, 10th July 2011
“You won’t find a more persuasive champion than Belohlávek, who has the music in his blood. His skill at unravelling Martinu’s rhythmic and textural knots – evidenced time and again in these live performances by the BBC Symphony Orchestra – is such that you immediately sense the stature of the music.” Financial Times, 30th July 2011 ****
“Martin˚u’s symphonies tend to divide opinion and have not enjoyed anything like the same exposure as those of his Czech predecessor, Dvorak. But if anyone can find the key to their language, it is Jiří Bělohlávek...there is plenty of freshness, verve and expressive wisdom on this set.” The Telegraph, 4th August 2011
“The BBC Symphony Orchestra sounds consistently alert, nimble and alive to Martinu's distinct musical moods...Bělohlávek demonstrates total commitment and concentration and his players are with him at every turn, captured in sharp sound that reveals the workings of the music. And since when did the BBC SO's strings have such a chameleonic ability to twist and shade their collective mood? Impressive and charming.” Classic FM Magazine, October 2011 ****
“Belohlavek and the orchestra are superb in the first three symphonies. He captures Martinu's shimmering, luminous orchestral textures and invests the pervasive 'sprung' rhythms of the faster movements with an infectious bounce. Belohlavek's emotional engagement is always complete...and throughout the set, Belohlavek's grasp of the trajectory of the symphonic argument is at all times apparent.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2011 *****
“Play them back to back and the inevitable risk is that they may all begin to sound too much alike, but such is Jiri Belohlavek's skill as a Martinu interpreter that the effect is still of impressive stylistic variety...In short, Belohlavek and the BBC SO are now my top recommendation for the Martinu symphonies” Gramophone Magazine, October 2011
Onyx - ONYX4061
(CD - 3 discs)
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Martinu - Complete Symphonies
As with all enormously prolific composers, Martinuº’s works are uneven in quality; but his symphonies are generally held among the outstanding 20th-century examples of the genre. All six were written in the USA, the first five in consecutive years from 1942 – the shadow of war can be heard in several march-like movements – but they frequently reveal the composer’s Czech origins, particularly in the stirring slow movements which become darker and more probing as the cycle progresses. The textures and rhythms have a percussive energy that derives both from his formative years of study in Paris in the 1920s and from the prominent use of a piano within the orchestra.
“The Bambergers play for all they are worth for Järvi, who brings out Martinu’s individual qualities and secures a remarkable degree of clarity.” Gramophone Magazine
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Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Valek
The sextuplet of Martinu symphonies originated within a very short time frame (Symphonies Nos. 1-5 within a mere five years – from 1942 to 1946 in the USA; Symphony No. 6, designated Fantaisies symphoniques, was completed in 1953) at a time when the composer enjoyed general acclaim and was bursting with creative energy. It was as if only on a new continent, where he was driven by war and was warmly welcomed, could Martinu muster up the courage to plunge into this classical form and seek to catch up on what he had “missed out on” until then.
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