Martinu: Bouquet of Flowers - Novak: Philharmonic Dances / Netopil, Prague Radio Symphony

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A MusicWeb International Recording of the Month!

For those who love Czech music, this is a highly valuable disc. For those, like me, passionate about Martin?, it is indispensable.

Martin? is one of those twentieth-century composers, like Prokofiev of Malcolm Arnold, who are sometimes taken less than seriously because they composed so prolifically, and with such apparent ease. Facility seems, to some at least, at odds with the knotty, hard-won efforts of pure genius (especially if Beethoven, or, in painting, Van Gogh, is taken as an archetype). Yet we make no such charges against eighteenth-century composers. Genius has many forms, and we should perhaps look to the prolific type as a source of unending treasures.

Bouquet of Flowers is a very attractive piece, with depths that become more apparent with each hearing. It was composed to a commission from Czech Radio and premiered in April 1938. The music is in Martin?’s most accessible idiom, based on Moravian folk songs, with a prominent part for two orchestral pianos and harmonium. Martin? had a gift – sometimes overlooked – for word-setting, and in the five songs which make up the cycle (plus an overture, and two interludes) he is able to demonstrate enormous emotional variety. The purely orchestral third movement, ‘Idyll’, has gentleness and great lyricism, yet also, in its accompaniment, rhythmic solidity. It is a charming and immediately enjoyable piece. The succeeding ‘Kravarky’ is a song about a little girl cowherd preparing to meet her young man. It has an interesting sobriety despite the apparent lightness of the theme. The last three songs have darker themes – the imprisoned young man (though he is helped to escape by his fair maid), ‘Koleda’ (‘A Carol’) about the consequences of Original Sin, and a final meditation on death before a concluding orchestral section. This is an important work, and a very satisfying one.

The three dances by Jan Novák are a valuable filler. By the way, he should not be confused with the better known Vít?zslav Novák (1870-1949). Jan Novák was a friend of Martin? and, in later years, an émigré, following the Soviet invasion of 1968. He had also been forced to work in Germany during the Second World War. Martin?’s influence on his idiom is evident, yet he has a distinctive voice. The three Philharmonic Dances are extended showpieces, readily accessible, and together they form an attractive suite. This is their first recording.

Performances throughout are excellent. Recordings are clear, and Netopil is emerging as a formidable musician. I have been impressed by previous recordings, and the Czech musical tradition seems very safe under his direction.

– MusicWeb International (Michael Wilkinson)

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SU4220-2

  • UPC: 099925422028

  • Label: Supraphon

  • Composer: Bohuslav Martinů, Jan Novák

  • Conductor: Tomas Netopil

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir, Prague Philharmonic Choir, Prague Philharmonic Chorus, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Adam Plachetka, Jaroslav Brezina, Katerina Knezikova, Michaela Kapustova