Two months into Martinu’s 50th anniversary year (he died in 1959) and there have been precious few opportunities to hear any of his symphonies in London.
It fell to the Salomon Orchestra to give his glorious Sixth, as part of a particularly well-chosen programme.
Dominic Wheeler is more often seen in the opera pit rather than the concert podium and it was apt that he should here be conducting works by two of the twentieth century’s finest operatic composers (although Martinu is still to be widely-recognised as such). There was a dramatic edge to the concert which, in addition to the Czech composer’s Sixth Symphony (“Fantaisies Symphoniques”), included Britten’s 1939 Violin Concerto and Dvorak’s Othello overture.
Things began with a flourish, three trumpeters delivering Benjamin Britten’s ingeniously interwining Fanfare for St Edmundsbury from right, left and aft. The orchestra then revelled in the intoxicating mix of tunes and themes in Britten’s thrilling Violin Concerto, with Sara Trickey taking in her stride the demanding soloist part and a particularly devilish central cadenza.
Dvorak’s Othello, one of three overtures he wrote in his pre-USA days on the subject of Nature, Life and Love may not be the greatest distillation of Shakespeare ever written but it has verve and character, which Wheeler and the orchestra delivered with plenty of attack.
Martinu’s Symphony No. 6 is the culmination of his late-flowering symphonic output (the First was written when he was 52 and this just six years before his premature death at 69). In the course of the work he quotes from his countryman Dvorak’s Requiem, his own gorgeous Field Mass and early surrealistic opera Julietta (soon to be heard in full at the Barbican).
The Salomon’s performance was a delight, capturing all the colour and excitement of a work tinged with longing for a homeland that Martinu had long-since left, never to return. There was nothing to give away that this is a non-professional orchestra so sumptuous was their sound and committed their approach. Full credit to Dominic Wheeler and especially to whoever put together such an inspiring and rewarding programme.