Last year’s Prom season took an extended look at Czech music, and Warner have come up with an enterprising CD program to reflect this, pairing more traditionally Czech works by Janacek with two of Martinu’s most rated orchestral scores.
You would think the harrowing Double Concerto, a concertfavourite, would make the biggest emotional impact, but good as thatperformance is it’s Andrew Davis‘ Frescoes of Piero dellaFrancesca that you’ll want to return to.
This tableau was Martinu’s response to a newly discovered fresco of the resurrection, which led him to seek out further examples. It’s an intensely lyrical and melodic work, and Davis brings out the serenity of its floating violin theme, helped by the singing BBC SO strings. He also captures ideally the mysterious nature of Frescoes, the hushed tones in the second movement realised perfectly before, as in the picture, Constantine sees the heavenly cross. Finally a calm resolution to the third movement, and a welcome alternative view to the high quality Czech recordings available in the catalogue.
The Double Concerto speaks in a more direct language, with an anguished outpouring never far from the surface. Jiri Belohlavek leads the Prague Philharmonia in a passionate performance, albeit one with a couple of quirks of tempo, the strings struggling to hold down the speed he chooses to use in the first movement’s recapitulation. They get to the heart of the Adagio though, a rich sound not over glamourising Martinu’s cinematic textures, and they give an immensely powerful reading of the Adagio theme when it returns at the end of the work. While not top drawer, this is a good introductory performance.
The Janacek works are early examples of his choral music, and the Brno Philharmonic Choir imbue the Huckvaldy folk material with plenty of vigour, amusing on the throwaway final song. The Lord’s Prayer, a fifteen minute setting, is beautifully performed in Czech by the BBC Symphony Chorus, with atmospheric and sensitive accompaniment from harpist Sioned Williams and organist Thomas Trotter. Tenor soloist Thomas Walker has a demanding role, and finds the powerful high register episodes a tough test, but deals with the softer music rather well.
The two pieces make a pleasing contrast with the Martinu, and anyone interested in exploring Czech music further than the obvious could do an awful lot worse than this enjoyable program.