Wallfisch Plays Martinů

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MARTINŮ: 7 Arabesques. Cello Sonatas Nos. 1-3 / Raphael Wallfisch, cel; John York, pno / Nimbus NI8105

A full CD of Martinů’s music is always welcome, even if there are several other recordings to choose from…and particularly if the cellist is Raphael Wallfisch, who always attacks the music he plays with energy and understanding.

Wallfisch’s lean, pointed cello tone, as it turns out, is perfect for this music. Though written in 1931, after the end of the “Jazz Age,” there is not so much of an allusion to jazz rhythms in this music as there were, oddly enough, in other Martinů works from the later ‘30s and ‘40s, but there are some ragtime rhythms here (particularly in No. 4) and both cellist and pianist catch the feeling nicely. Though he was not really a jazz-classical hybrid composer, Martinů always kept his ears open to new styles of music, and particularly after he moved to America he would incorporate a few jazz elements in his instrumental compositions from time to time. Perhaps because his music was a bit more harmonically conservative than that of Bartók, Martinů was, I think, taken for granted in his lifetime rather than being recognized as the fourth and last great Czech composer after Smetana, Dvořák, and Janáček.

Upon beginning the cello sonatas, both Wallfisch and York play with a somewhat more serious tone but no less of a lively approach to the music. They catch the syncopations in the first movement of the first sonata flawlessly—would that more classical pianists and cellist could do as well!—and thus their performance, though clearly long practiced and extensively detailed, somehow sounds spontaneous.  In the second movement of the first sonata, Martinů indulges in some very strange harmonic movement, given to the piano as a solo before the cello enters.

But it is in the slow movements that Wallfisch really shines, bringing out so much emotion that one is left spellbound. This is where he excels over many of the others who have recorded these sonatas, even those cellists who have richer, warmer tones than he does.

This is an excellent CD, well recommended to Martinů aficionados.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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