Martin - Works for Cello & Piano, Volume 1 (Christian Benda/ Sebastian Benda) (Naxos: 8.554502)
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Works for cello andpiano, Volume 1
may still be less wellknown than his compatriots Dvořak, Smetana and Janaček, but hisoutput is large and ranges from chamber works to symphonies and operas. Theseinclude some real treasures and much that is attractive and enjoyable. If it isthe symphonic works and operas that make the strongest impression at first,much of the chamber music has a more intimate appeal to a home listener. Amongthese works are the three sonatas and short pieces on this disc, none too longto outstay their welcome.
Bohuslav Martinů was born on 8thDecember 1890 in a small room in the tower of St. James' Church in the Czechvillage of Polička. His first composition, at the age of thirteen, was apiece called Three Riders, written for string quartet. Such earlypromise was disappointed when he was expelled from Prague Conservatory afterfour years.
It was not until 1918 at the end of the First World War that Martinů produced his first major composition, CzechRhapsody for baritone, chorus and orchestra. This traditional patrioticwork uses texts from Psalm 23, the poem Bohemia and quotes thenationalist Wenceslas Chorale.
As a violinist with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra he worked under thegreat Czech conductor, Vaclav Talich. It was not long before Martinů fell under the spell of the new French music ofcomposers like Debussy and Ravel, the first product of that influence being theexotic ballet, Istar, of 1921. By 1923, the lure of things Gallicpersuaded him to move to France where he studied under Albert Roussel in Paris.
There he gained recognition outside his own country as one of the leadingcomposers of the day.
Martinů's preoccupation withthe impressionism of Debussy soon changed to an interest in the neo-?¡classicismfavoured by Stravinsky as well as Parisian Symbolism and Dadaism and a loveaffair with the new American Jazz. The results were works like the 1926 ballet TheButterfly that stamped and the jazzy Kitchen Revue of 1927 and JazzSuite of a year later.
In 1930, Martinů rediscovered theBaroque Concerto Grosso form. By 1932 he composed an affectionate folk ballet Spaliček,remembering the music of his homeland, and in 1934 wrote the first of hismajor operas, The Miracle of Our Lady. The works which followed are someof his finest: the operas Alexandre his and the surrealist Julietta, thefolk cantata A Bouquet of Flowers, the String Quartet No. 4 andthe Concerto Grosso.
The Nazi threat in Europe now meant permanent exile. He fled Paris in1940, escaping the German troops, reaching the South of France and then movingon to America like many of Europe's great musicians.
In New York, where Dvořak had written his last symphony, Martinů began his series of six symphonies. He wasdeeply homesick and decided to return to Europe in 1953. He settled, not in thenew Czechoslovakia but on the French Riviera where he was inspired to write oneof his most luminescent works, the triptych of the Frescoes of Piero dellaFrancesca, as well as two contrasting oratorios, Gilgamesh and TheOpening of the Wells. Illness and depression were now plaguing thewandering composer and in 1958 he moved to Switzerland to stay with theconductor and impresario Paul Sacher. On 28th August 1959 Martinů died in a hospital near Basle and was buriednear to Sacher's home. His last years had seen him involved in his epic opera TheGreek Passion, a work which summed up much of his life's work.>
This present disccontains all three of the Sonatas for cello and piano together with sometranscriptions of pieces originally for violin and piano. The three Sonatas werewritten between 1939 and 1952 - the first in Paris, the second in New York andthe third partly in America and partly in France. All three works are alreadymature in style and although the First Sonata was written in thattroubled year of war, it shows little of the drama of some of Martinů'scompositions of the previous year. The second sonata of 1941 is moretraditional, beginning with a sonata form opening Allegro and a movingemotional slow movement to follow. The Third Sonata of 1952 is perhaps amore strictly classical work, one of the last of those pieces written in thisstyle before the Sixth Symphony of the following year. All three Sonata,are written in the standard three-movement form with a central slowmovement. Transcriptions of some short and attractive pieces originally writtenfor violin and piano are also included: the Arabesque, of 1931 and theshort Ariette of the previous year.