Great Czech Conductors: Martin Turnovsky = MARTINU, IBERT, BIZET, HINDEMITH, ST.-SAENS, PROKOFIEV – Prague Sym. soloists/ Prague Sym. – Supraphon (2-CDs)

by | Aug 7, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Great Czech Conductors: Martin Turnovsky = MARTINU: Symphony No. 4; Concertino for Cello, Brass, and Battery; Tre Ricercari; IBERT: Concerto for Cello and Wind Instruments; HINDEMITH: Trauermusik for Viola and String Orchestra; MYSLIVECEK: Sinfonia in D Major; BIZET: Jeux d’enfants, Op. 22; SAINT-SAENS: Les carnaval des animaux; PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63 – Andre Navarra, cello/ Ladislav Cerny, viola/ Pavel Stepan and Ilja Hurnik, piano/ Ladislav Jesek, violin/ Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (Martinu Symphony, Concertino and Ricercari; Ibert)/ Chamber Harmony/  Prague Chamber Orchestra (Hindemith, Myslivecek)/ Prague Symphony Orchestra Bizet, Saint-Saens, Prokofiev)/ Martin Turnovsky – Supraphon SU 4082-2 (2-CDs), TT: 2:29:11 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
Martin Turnovsky (b. 1928), a protégé of both Karel Ancerl and George Szell, has not loomed large among collectors, but this set from Supraphon may refresh our awareness of his numerous contributions to his musical craft. Many would argue that, is spite of his good work in Czechoslovakia prior to 1968, it was his emigration to Austria and Dresden that marked a new level of perceived importance to the world, particularly after he and pianist Ivan Moravec recorded the Beethoven G Major Concerto. His more recent work in the opera houses in Bonn, Cincinnati, and Seattle have gleaned favorable press response.
This set opens with a 1965 reading of Bohuslav Martinu’s Symphony No. 4, a rather vivacious and colorful piece whose first movement (Poco moderato) cross-rhythms appeal to both conductor and his responsive ensemble.  The Scherzo (Allegro vivo) confirms Martinu’s repute for manipulating colors with deft craftsmanship, the Czech Philharmonic winds, brass, and snare drum in particularly fine fettle. The delicate Trio section insists, as will the tender Largo movement, on Martinu’s capacity for rarified lyricism and chorale-writing, the piano underlining the shimmering music’s pedal point. The last movement, Poco allegro, rife with modalities and suspensions, could be mistaken for the music of Alan Hovhaness. The last pages exude a fierce optimism despite the frequent dissonances and metric convulsions. The trumpet work from the CPO equals anything our best American ensembles have poured forth.
The 1924 Concertino for Cello and Wind Instruments in C Minor (rec. 1966) enjoys the lyrical talent of Andre Navarra (1911-1988). The piano joins in as a concertante instrument, and together they project contrary lines and textures, the cello arioso to the piano’s staccati. Martial interjections imitate patterns we know from Stravinsky’s neo-Classical period, but Martinu’s melos urges more romantic nostalgia for the Czech landscape. The snare introduces yet another series of bold, jazzy riffs and a series of scales, some oriental, from the cello. A cadenza from Navarra reminds us of his own capacity for a rich palette. The last pages blare and  thunder in mock militancy, and suddenly, it’s over.
Quite a contrast ensues with the 1925 Pastorale movement that opens the Ibert Concerto for Cello and 10 Wind Instruments from the same 1966 sessions. Aerial and wistful, the music moves with blithe facility. The Romance has a drunken quality, a combination of Isaac Albeniz and Kurt Weill. Navarra sings into harmonics, then strums and resonates in the cello’s low register, only to climb into a soaring idea which the piping flutes answer. The tone becomes both bucolic and mocking before the music scampers away. The virtuosic Gigue combines the cello’s melodic capacity against a series of rustic or jazzy dances in the winds. Pipes and deep brass counter the cello’s riffs, the music’s assuming more of Ibert’s essentially boulevardier character. Another aggressive cadenza, reminiscent of the Debussy Cello Sonata, leads to the chirps and bellows of the final pages, a bit wild rusticity in which cello and trumpet share the last word.
The Hindemith Trauermusik dates from 1961, and it features Ladislav Cerny on the composer’s own instrument, intoning in the four elegiac movements, of which the opening Lento is the longest. The second movement (Poco mosso) sings briefly, then vanishes. The ensuing Vivo proceeds in a coarser vein, but only for thirty seconds more than had the second movement. In sad tones, the last movement sings and dies away, our having been left with a strong sense of Cerny’s pathos. The Tre ricercari (1938) by Martinu, written for the bi-centennial of Venice, exude an optimism that belies the political climate of his own country at the time. The three pieces have the feeling of fugues or madrigals for instruments, the two outer movements energetic and colored by the piano’s runs and choppy chords. The Largo allows a moment of bucolic sadness in, the flute’s intoning over strings and two pianos. The oboe, which also figures in the finale (Allegro), adds a bit of lyrical color. The dance impulse reigns as the oboe and violins move the finale, Martinu’s Paris influences evident in the sonic allusions to Stravinsky or Les Six.
With the Sinfonia in D of Josef Myslivecek (1737-1781), Turnovsky (rec. September 1955) and the Prague Chamber Orchestra follow his predecessor Vaclav Talich in celebrating the Czech antique national style that so impressed Mozart. The galant strains of the Allegro con spirito suggest a cross between courtly Gluck and hunting-motif Mozart, bright and delicately poignant. Equally noble in character, the Andante carries a more refined ethos, a child of the emfindsamkeit or emotional school of expression. The Presto might remind us of Mozart’ Symphony in A, K. 201, the string, horn and woodwind work worthy of that composer’s many brilliant cassations.
The 1967 inscription with the Prague Symphony of the Bizet suite Jeux d’enfants conveys the same bite and incisive rhythmic drive we know the famous Igor Markevitch recording. An incisive March yields to the hallowed dreams of children in the Berceuse. Winds and strings burst into the brief Impromptu; the operatic Duo follows in a storybook version of the ideal married couple. With the Galop, Bizet’s model for all French excursions into childhood ends, the magic of Wordsworth’s rainbow in the sky. The 1967 excursion to the musical zoological society run by Saint-Saens proves just as youthfully infectious, the duo pianists Stepan and Hurnik equal in velocity and simian or aquiline acrobatics as Weissenberg and Siki had been in their day. Any time we can hear Offenbach’s can-can slowed to tortoise tempo brings a smirk, as do Berlioz’s sylphs no longer bearing tusks and long trunks. The 1964 performance of the Prokofiev G Minor Concerto pairs Turnovsky with veteran virtuoso Ladislav Jasek (b. 1929) brings the requisite balance of metric acuity and angular lyricism established by the Heifetz/Koussevitzky landmark recording. Lasek’s thin but piercing tone adds to the driven, sonic luster of the reading, of which the second movement, Andante assai, remains a poignant moment for music lovers.
—Gary Lemco

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