Cantatas by Bohuslav Martinů performed by the Prague Philharmonic Choir

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LABELS: Supraphon
WORKS: The Legend of the Smoke from Potato Tops; The Opening of the Springs; Romance of the Dandelions; Mikes of the Mountains
PERFORMER: Pavla Vykopalová (soprano), Ludmila Kromková (contralto), Martin Slavík (tenor), Jirí Brückler, Petr Svoboda (baritone); Daniel Havel (recorder), Jan Parík (clarinet), Jan Voboril (horn), Josef Hrebík (accordion), Ivo Kahánek (piano); Prague Philharmonic Choir/Lukáš Vasilek


Three consecutive years have brought with them CD revelations about the greatest 20th-century composer who is yet to be widely celebrated as such. In 2015, Maxim Rysanov shone a light upon Martinu’s works featuring solo viola and now, following Supraphon’s essential 2016 recordings of the last (mini) opera Ariane and the complete piano trios, comes a cumulatively stunning presentation of four late cantatas. All based on the mixture of folk wisdom and sophisticated poetic conceits in the writing of Miloslav Bures, they celebrate the natural world and its regenerative powers in the face of human loss, disaster and failure.

Each begins arrestingly – the first sounds we hear are of recorder and clarinet – and acquires emotional weight as it goes. The unpromisingly-titled Legend of the Smoke from Potato Tops builds on the fresh-air brilliance of Janácek’s Glagolitic Mass as the Virgin and her Son leave a dark church for the Bohemian outdoors. The Opening of the Springs, superficially the simplest of the four, celebrates the ritualistic late-May clearance of struggling fresh-water sources and ends with Martinu’s answer to the old-age wisdom of The Cunning Little Vixen. Baritone Jirí Brückler is superb here, and the top-quality professional Prague Philharmonic Choir master the most harmonically rich cantata of the four, a tale of a girl who doesn’t recognise her long-lost love returning from the wars. Mikes of the Mountains is the perfect summing-up: the embellished tale of a wise shepherd guiding his flock through the worst that nature can throw at them. Valuable messages for our or indeed any time, and superlatively performed. Unmissable.


David Nice