BOHUSLAV MARTINU: Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra; Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra; Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola and Orchestra – Josef Suk, violin/Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/ Vaclav Neumann
Supraphon SU 3967-2, 72:46 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
This remastering of recordings made 1973 (Concertos) and 1987 (Rhapsody-Concerto) vividly certifies composer Bohuslav Martinu’s commitment to and familiarity with the violin, especially in the case of his long-neglected First Concerto (1933), written for Samuel Dushkin but not premiered until 1973–by Josef Suk (b. 1929) and Georg Solti–after having been discovered by Harry Halbreich in the Moldenhauer archive in 1968.
The neo-classic First Concerto asserts Martinu’s highly Gallic influence, the syncopated subjects in the opening movement juxtaposed against a flowery cantilena whose pure melody contrasts with the witty, whirling and jarring punctuations of the strings and battery. The jazzy, insistent riffs more than once hint at Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, which posits the same pungent irreverence. The spirit of the second movement Andante often seems close to that of Samuel Barber, a gentle, modal, colored lyricism that invites concertante elements from assorted woodwinds. The last movement Allegretto follows, attacca, busily on the heels of the Andante. The violin’s slashing scales and detached chords hint at the Sibelius Concerto, but the harmonies, rapping percussion, and jabbing rhythms strictly adhere to 20th Century syntax. A brief cadenza sends the orchestra into convulsive fits, answered by variants from the violin in the style of Bartok, energetic, stunningly vital.
The Concerto No. 2 (1943) evolved out of a commission from Mischa Elman, who had been mesmerized by Martinu’s First Symphony. Since Elman embodied a Russian Romantic tradition, Martinu fashioned a concerto lyrical in nature, though peppered throughout with dissonant, color effects in horns and battery. The first movement Andante dominates the piece, a martial Allegro for violin, strings, and significant tympani emergent after a rapturous four minutes. The Andante’s melancholy returns late in the movement, moody, haunted, a virtual storm before the violin re-enters with some soothing balm and a poignant cadenza. The Andante moderato second movement, with its idyllic, rhapsodic blend of woodwinds and strings, offers repose in the midst of emotional outcries. Suk’s suave tone captures our attention, especially set against the triangle, warbling winds, and snare. The solo expresses its plaint in another, albeit brief, cadenza that merges with the orchestra in wayward, vibrant scale passages. The Poco Allegro is a gypsy rondo in colors that rival Bartok and Enesco. The orchestra has its work cut out in the form of blaring, even raucous ensemble pulsating with expressive energy. The texture thins out and becomes lyrically diaphanous, only to urge forward in little, angularly virtuosic riffs. Martial elements hold sway, the temper of the music having become more heroic as it moves to the final peroration; a final, intense cadenza intercedes before the skittish, demonic figures take us to a metrically wild, decisive conclusion.
The Rhapsody-Concerto (1952) arose from a commission from viola virtuoso Jascha Weissi, who premiered it in Cleveland under Szell. In two movements, the work falls into three sections, since the Molto Adagio segues directly into a Poco Allegro. In the manner of Ernest Bloch, Martinu fashions a colorful, wistful work that highlights the full potential of the viola’s registers, often in a hearty, folkish vein. A flute elegy enters the mix in the first movement, underscored by thumps in the basses and the tympani. The ardent nature of the writing recalls moments in Vaughan Williams, as in Flos Campi. Flute and pizzicato strings open the middle movement, which quickly assumes an ominous air with ostinato bass line. The viola enters with a dark chant that spreads into the evening sky. Double notes and a swarthy tone from Suk engage us further, the tenor having become misty and inward. Martial riffs swoop down, long-held notes that yield to a bucolic air of reconciliation. A sustained pedal over a muted snare leads to a moment of rapture and a cadenza; then a buzzing motif explodes into a feral dance. A last, nostalgic look to Nature provides Suk with all the lyrical ammunition he needs to make this showstopper piece a required staple for audiophiles.
— Gary Lemco