Martinů: Orchestral Works / Netopil, Prague Symphony Orchestra
“And the sculptor fixes the likeness of a face in clay. And you walked by and passed before his work, and you glanced at the face and then walked on your way. And then it happened that you were not quite the same. Slightly changed, but changed.” The motto Bohuslav Martinu chose from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Citadelle for one of his Parables also poetically defines the transformational power of his final orchestral opuses. Following the six symphonies composed in the USA, he wrote them in Europe, much closer to his homeland. The orchestral triptych Les Fresques de Piero della Francesca was inspired by the work of the Italian Renaissance master. As Martinu himself put it: “The frescoes harbor a peculiar kind of solemn and rigid tranquility, abounding in strange, serene and moving poetry; it is the darkened colored atmosphere I strove to express in music.” The Parables is another piece in which Martinu reflected his philosophical ideas, with each of its three movements treating an allegory of life and human quest in the world. The symphonic prelude The Rock refers to the landing place of the English settlers who came to North America in 1619, as well as Martinu’s own fate as a homeless pilgrim. Martinu’s very last symphonic work, Estampes, comes across more as a fine drawing interwoven with silence than an impasto, as is the case of his previous orchestral pieces. These brilliant, extraordinary Martinu works are yet to gain the recognition they so richly deserve. The new Supraphon recording, made by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra under the renowned conductor Tomáš Netopil, affords hope that this will be set right. It would be a pity to miss out on such beauty. Bohuslav Martinu’s late pinnacles – beauty and profundity yet to be discovered.
Supraphon has very good recordings of all of this music, and their lack of availability hitherto was concerning; but if the idea is to replace those older versions with excellent new ones such as this, we should be fine. This release features the lion’s share of Martinu’s last major orchestral works, all composed between 1953 and his death in 1959. The brief, neo-baroque Overture was written in 1953, after which the composer forgot about it completely. He literally had no recollection of it at all, and it’s delightful, but it’s the four bigger works that really seal the deal.
The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca, The Rock (as in Plymouth and the Pilgrims), The Parables and the Estampes (“Prints”) are all cut from the same cloth. It doesn’t matter what the alleged “program” is. They are by turns dreamy, rhythmically energetic, lyrical and somehow disturbing. Just listen to them as pure music. Martinu had a gift at writing in a style that features a mesmerizing, hallucinatory quality that nevertheless moves with a kind of hypnotic, irresistible energy. All four of these pieces share this special atmosphere.
Happily, they are all splendidly played and recorded here. The Frescoes, in particular, has been recorded numerous times, but this version stands with the best. Netopil takes his time over the first movement, only to permit us to revel in its lush proliferation of tiny coloristic details, but the finale has plenty of excitement. In other words, Netopil charts a knowing and confident path through these haunting and evocative pieces; and as a perfect introduction to music of the composer’s last decade, this release is tough to beat.
– ClassicsToday.com (David Hurwitz)
Release Date: October 22, 2021
Catalog Number: SU4295-2
Number of Discs: 1