Martinu: Double Concertos - Kodama, Kodama, Nemtanu, Nemtanu, Demesse, Foster
PentaTone Classics PTC 5186658
Classical - Orchestral
Martinu: Double Concertos for 2 Violins, 2 Pianos, Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra
Mari Kodama, Momo Kodama (pianos)
Sarah Nemtanu, Deborah Nemtanu (violins)
Magali Demesse (viola)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille
Lawrence Foster (conductor)
Bohuslav Martinů’s distinctive musical voice, which infuses the great Czech tradition with modern idioms, is showcased in this captivating survey of his concertante works, performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille conducted by Lawrence Foster.
The Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra is a lively and rhythmic tour de force. Breezily energetic and relentless, it is full of jazzy inflections and high speed fireworks, pausing only in the tranquillity of the slow movement for moments of serene calm. By contrast, the Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra is a warm, lyrical work in the Romantic tradition. With its intricate and interweaving solo lines, expansive melodies and dance-like syncopations it’s an engaging work of considerable charm which deserves a wider audience. The Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola and Orchestra is a dreamily nostalgic work whose simple melodies, radiant lyricism and soaring viola line make it one of the 20th century’s most performed viola concertos.
Review by Adrian Quanjer - April 30, 2018
A must for all Martinů fans and those who are eager to know more about this Czech composer.
Our Hi-Res catalogue boasts three pages of Bohuslav Martinů. Works of different character, going from simple miniatures to symphonies and concerti (including admirable recordings of both cello concerti for BIS). However, this still looks like a token of what this prolific composer has produced during his turbulent life time. Fortunately his star has risen rapidly over the last two decades and many Martinů adepts will be pleased that Pentatone invited five eminent soloists of more or less similar standing, to record three further solo works, two of which were until now not available on SACD and hardly in any other format.
Starting this review with the relatively popular Rhapsody Concertante for viola and orchestra, some will remember the Capriccio recording with an outstanding Tabea Zimmerman as soloist (Martinu: Rhapsody Concerto - Conlon). It’s a lovely and kind of neo-romantic piece, commissioned by a Ukrainian violist, expertly modeled to the virtuoso wishes of the client. I don’t think it is fair to put Magali Demesse, solo violist with the Marseille Philharmonic, in direct comparison, but she does demonstrate a skillful and sensitive approach, which, combined with a beautiful tone, puts her and the Rhapsody in a sufficiently clear focus. And being a member of the orchestra her playing blends in adequately with that of her fellow musicians.
The other two works on offer are equally virtuoso as wanted by their respective ‘commissioners’. I confess that I hadn’t heard them before. And listening to them it was like a sensational surprise journey in uncharted territory. Although typical for his style it provided me with a notable insight in Martinů’s American period during which he magically combined Bohemian tunes with American influences and modern techniques, though in both concerti in a totally different manner.
The tone of the neo-lyrical (by want of a better expression) double violin concerto is mainly positive. But the virtuoso aspect demands a high degree of ability and perfect interplay between solo players and orchestra. The Nemtanu sisters, both already at an early age principles in prestigious French orchestras (Orchestre National de Paris Orchestre de Chambe de Paris) deliver their part of the job skillful and in a one hundred per cent collaboration, whereas the orchestral support does not always follow as seamlessly as one would have wished. That being so, it should be noted that Martinů is no daily fare for French orchestras. Notwithstanding this minor quibble, I am positive as to the overall result, which I find most rewarding and, in any case, a highly commendable addition and sure value to the super audio or any other catalogue.
The highlight in this short Czech-American survey is the double concerto for two pianos, written in barely over a month at the beginning of 1943. On the one hand, the mood is dark and restless, no doubt still part of Martinů having to escape from the advent of National Socialism in Europe. On the other, it has the force of courage and resurrection. Not only did Martinů pull all the complicating stops, creating misery for technically unskilled solo players, he also added a fair amount of jazzy American elements. Under the hands of Duo Kodama it sounds seemingly effortless, as though they have been doing this all their lives. Knowing that Momo lives in France and that Mari has her home base in San Francisco, it can only have been their competent artistry and... natural sisterhood that made it happen.
In any double concerto, especially with similar solo instruments, it is of overriding importance that partners play as one. In a previous Pentatone release (Tchaikovsky: Ballet Suites for Piano Duo - Kodama, Kodama ) I said that “.. the flow of both sisters’ playing demonstrates such a convincing degree of togetherness that it is impossible to hear who is in the lead.” Equals at work, one might say. And such is the case here, too. In short: A thrilling performance that needs to be discovered without hesitation.
As for the orchestra, it must have taken some effort on the part of Lawrence Foster to inspire his musicians to follow suit in this kind of repertoire. In my part of the world it is (or rather was) a known fact that L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille, often accused of ‘routine’, is not quite in the premier league of the 32 registered orchestral formations in France. However, after having listened to this recording, I cannot but conclude that since this American conductor has taken over the reins of this 88 strong formation in the oldest and second largest city in France, it has taken a promising 'saut qualitatif’.
Copyright © 2018 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net