Martinu: Complete Piano Music Vol 6 / Giorgio Koukl

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These two volumes [6 & 7] of the complete solo piano music of Bohuslav Martinu announce the completion of an outstanding undertaking. The series was originally intended to run to only four discs but has since trawled further outwards. The catch means it is now, quite clearly, the most extensive and exhaustive collection of the works for solo piano ever recorded.

Volume six starts with the 1931 Esquisses H203. They’re written in pungent neo-classical form, and hints of chinoiserie, Paris-style, haunt the second of the six, as well as Ragtime. Martinu, though, always remained far more allusive stylistically than fellow Czech Schulhoff in this regard. Impressionist hues haunt the Fourth whilst I’m sure I hear a larky Volga Boatmen embedded in the Ragtime melos of No.5 – plenty of sinewy articulation here.

Jeux was also written in 1931 and is a locus classicus of Martinu cross-rhythms. I suggest you start with No.3 of the four of Book I, which is both fluent and fluid but also sports a characteristically saturnine neo-classical drive. The second book is no less fine for all that: in some ways it’s more piquant still, with a warm and malleable quality to the Andante [No.3] and a martial tune laced with Prokofiev-like moments [No.6]. We go right back to 1917 for Tri lyrické skladby (Three Lyric Pieces). These take in a Mussorgsky Pictures feel in the first of the three. The second starts like an etude, diverts to popular chinoiserie, then noodles off in the direction of the nineteenth century drawing room. Weird mélange.

There are pieces you probably have not come across even in literature devoted to the composer. The Black Bottom is one. It dates from 1927 and is a delightful minute’s worth of your time. The sleeve note writers have relied too much on Wikipedia for this one. Jelly Roll Morton’s Black Bottom Stomp came via Perry Bradford’s introduction of it in 1919 in Nashville, Tennessee, not the Black Bottom district of Detroit. Naturally you won’t be interested in this, but I am.

Vecer na pobreží (Evening at the Shore) dates from 1921 and will intrigue admirers of the composer. In three brief movements he creates an intimate impressionistic tableau, somewhat reliant on Griffes possibly, where, in the central panel, the left hand waves lap into the right hand melody line delightfully and where the storm in the finale gently eases away. This may seem atypical but it shows the ease with which he assimilated French models and distilled them potently. The disc ends with the grand bell peals of Písen beze slov, the valedictory Nocturne and the plangent Chanson triste in D minor....

So Koukl’s pilgrimage has come to its end. He has been a most worthy guide, and now takes his place at the top table of Martinu performers on record. At budget price he has no peers. As a complete cycle this set has no rivals. Individual performances from the likes of Firkušný, Leichner and others may be more arresting in isolation but the overarching reach of Koukl proves dominant and permanent.

-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8572024

  • UPC: 747313202478

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Bohuslav Martinů

  • Performer: Giorgio Koukl