Martinů’s Double Concerti in a New Recording

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MARTINŮ: Concerto for 2 Violins & Orchestra. Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola & Orchestra. Concerto for 2 Pianos & Orchestra / Deborah Nemtanu, Sarah Nemtanu, vln; Magali Demesse, vla; Momo Kodama, Mari Kodama, pno; Orchestre Philharmonique de Marsaille; Lawrence Foster, cond / Pentatone Classic 5186658

The imaginative and always inventive Bohuslav Martinů gets a modern makeover in this new release. In the first piece, written in 1950, gone are the Bohemian-Slavic references in many of his scores: none of the slightly asymmetric phrasing one heard in earlier works is present. Here, all is crisp and clean, with a no-reading reading that presses forward with an almost relentless drive. In its own way it’s exciting, however, and both the soloists and orchestra play with flawless technique.

Happily, the Bohemian spirit is present in this performance of the Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola, a solo-instrument work featuring the fine playing of one Magali Demesse. Conductor Lawrence Foster imbues this work with Eastern European warmth, and Demesse responds in kind. She is particularly fine in the expressive latter part of the first movement with her tasteful use of portamento.

The duo-piano concerto, somewhat splashier than normal for Martinů, revels in chromatic movement and frequent key changes within bars. This gets a fine reading from Foster and his soloists, the piano duo of Momo and Mari Kodama. The orchestration is quite unique in its coloring, and in addition has a good amount of jazz syncopation about it, a rare thing for the normally quite classical-oriented Martinů (though he did write a jazz suite earlier). Indeed, much of the chromatic movement here seems to take its cue from contemporary jazz of the time (1943); you can find my detailed analysis of this work in my online book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond. I’m guessing that jazz-classical aficionados haven’t yet fully discovered or embraced this work simply because it is so much denser and more complex than the mostly-crappy Gershwin Piano Concerto in F, so popular because it’s much more accessible to the general public. Martinů also introduces a quasi-blues swagger into the second movement, even in the orchestral part, which Foster conducts excellently. With somewhat more jazz-oriented soloists, this performance might really have swung. The Kodamas try their best, bless them, but simply don’t have the kind of feeling one would have gotten from a duo of, say, Friedrich Gulda and Chick Corea, who played a duo-concert back in the 1980s.

The last movement, a bit less jazz-inflected than the first two and played in a fast 3, skips along at a lively pace but still fits in with the preceding music. Foster gets a lot of credit for drawing such an elastic reading from his French orchestra. Clearly, this is the most masterful and original piece of the three on this CD. Very highly recommended!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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