Martinu’s Delightfully Innovative Chamber Works

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

The works on this disc offer a comprehensive overview of Martinu’s works for large chamber ensembles. They date from 1927 (La revue de cuisine) to 1959 (Chamber Music No. 1), the year of his death. The former requires clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano, violin, and cello, the latter clarinet, harp, piano, and string trio. Martinu’s Harpsichord Concerto is inventively scored for flute, bassoon, piano, three violins, viola, cello, and double bass. Les rondes (1930), one of his earliest explorations of his native Czech folk music (try the soulful music clip attached), is an unforgettably attractive suite of six dances scored for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano, and two violins.

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 Martinu’s consistently inventive writing. The single exception is Robert Hill’s harpsichord—not his playing of it, but rather the thin-toned timbre of the instrument itself, which fails to speak as strongly as it should even against this relatively tiny ensemble. It’s not a major defect, but it is noticeable, and it is not the fault of the engineering, which is basically excellent.

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, bringing the total to 20, but it’s such a fun piece that every extra minute is worth having. Conductor Simon contributes informative notes, but needs to double-check his dates. He calls the “Tango” in La revue de cuisine “a magnificent parody of Ravel’s Boléro,” and so it sounds. The only problem is that the Ravel wasn’t premiered until 1928, a year after La revue de cuisine was composed. Never mind: this is a mostly terrific disc of totally terrific music.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this coupling

    La revue de cuisine (complete ballet); Harpsichord Concerto; Chamber Music No. 1; Les rondes

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