MARTINU: Complete Music for Violin and Orchestra – Bohuslav Matousek, violin/ Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/ Christopher Hogwood – Hyperion CDA67674 CD, 54 min. ***** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:
The recordings in this latest installment in Martinu’s orchestral works from Christopher Hogwood and the Czech Philharmonic date from five to seven years ago; I guess that Hyperion hadn’t quite formulated a firm grasp of the nature of the concept of the series at the time of the recording sessions. Christopher Hogwood is a surprisingly idiomatic interpreter of Martinu’s oeuvre, and Hyperion’s recordings are so uniformly excellent, the end result sounds as though it could have been recorded yesterday! Combine a remarkably good conductor with a superb orchestra with a deep understanding of the works of one of their native sons, and the recipe is an undoubtedly good one.
The two Violin Concertos are remarkably good reminders of Martinu’s incredible talents as a composer. As with all of his output, I was immediately struck with how accessible and familiar the works rang, even though this was my first experience with either of these masterworks for the violin. Virtuoso Czech violinist Bohuslav Matousek is one of the world’s foremost interpreters of the music of Martinu, and he offers superb readings of both works. The First Concerto for Violin was commissioned by Polish/American violinist Samuel Dushkin in the thirties. The political upheaval in Europe that preceded World War II delayed the work’s premiere, however, and the score was mislaid and essentially forgotten until the late sixties. The work was finally premiered in 1973, and it is a tour-de-force of virtuoso violin performance. Martinu’s mastery of the violin really shines through in his writing for his preferred instrument. The Second Concerto was also written for an American violinist, Mischa Elman; Martinu’s writing here contrasts that of the First Concerto, with its impressive technical display, and highlights Elman’s melodic and expressive playing. Matousek’s mastery of these works is unquestionable here, and will merit repeat listenings of these underappreciated concertos.
Sound quality from Hyperion is superb, as always, and even though they announced earlier this summer that they were no longer going to produce SACD discs – which was a complete disappointment to me – when the results are this good, who can really complain? Very highly recommended.
— Tom Gibbs