Full and Resonant
by Bohuslav Martinu,
The background to Martinu's two violin concertos is as contrasting as the music itself, and yet they were not as separated in time as much as may be imagined. The first was the composer's own idea after he heard Samuel Dushkin playing in the early 1930s and found his playing an inspiration. (Martinu was himself a fine violinist.) Dushkin had given the premier of Stravinsky's concerto in 1931, and Martinu assumed that the liaison between composer and soloist would be straightforward. But Dushkin proved difficult to work with, and despite several proposed performance dates, and cancellations, partly due to demands for rewriting, and partly the pressure of political upheavals throughout Europe around 1934, no performance happened. Dushkin opposed an intended performance in the US by Louis Krasner in 1938 and then, with Martinu's emigration to America, the score was lost. The composer never heard it.
The score was discovered in Washington in 1968 (nine years after Martinu's death) and the first performance took place in 1973 with the Chicago Symphony, Josef Suk as soloist and Georg Solti conducting. The piece does not quite have the spontaneity that gives the composer his usual buoyancy
Listen -- Martinu: Allegro moderato (Violin Concerto No 1)
(track 1, 1:23-2:36) © 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd
but there is gentle lyricism and rewarding contours in the slow movement.
Listen -- Martinu: Andante (Violin Concerto No 1)
(track 2, 0:57-2:27) © 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd
In contrast, the 2nd Violin Concerto was written in just two months in his new home in New York in response to a request from Misha Elman, a violinist not widely known for his enthusiasm for new music. With this less demanding, less virtuosic and far more elegant violinist, Martinu produced a glorious work to equal his style and talent. The piece was completed in April 1943 and first heard in December of the same year with the Boston Symphony with great success.
Listen -- Martinu: Poco allegro (Violin Concerto No 2)
(track 6, 0:00-1:14) © 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd
Christopher Hogwood has long been a Martinu champion, from being a student in Prague and since then a board member of the Martinu Complete Edition and recipient of the 1999 Martinu Foundation medal. The partnership between conductor and soloist Bohuslav Matousek sounds superbly sympathetic, and the sound full and resonant.
Copyright © 5 February 2009
Patric Standford, Wakefield UK
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