Martinu: Cello Sonata No. 1; Cello Sonata No. 2; Cello Sonata No. 3; Seven Arabesques; Ariette

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COMPOSERS: Martinu
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Cello Sonata No. 1; Cello Sonata No. 2; Cello Sonata No. 3; Seven Arabesques; Ariette
PERFORMER: Sebastian Benda (cello)Christian Benda (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554502
Martinu composed his First Cello Sonata in May 1939 in Paris. The Nazis had just invaded Czechoslovakia, where his immediate family still lived. His mental turmoil influenced the work’s unusually dramatic and personal character, particularly in the central Lento. The Bendas create an atmosphere of mystery in this movement, with some good legato playing from the cello in the more expansive sections.

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By Sonata No. 2 (1941), Martinu had fled to New York, arriving penniless and ill. The piano tone in the present recording, always a touch too bright in the higher registers, hits you like a slap in the face in the percussive first movement. Christian Benda throws himself into the energetic rhythms of the neo-Baroque finale, but could perhaps have played with even greater abandon in the cadenza-like solo passage.

The Third Sonata’s lovely first-movement tune, part-Bohemian, part-Negro spiritual is immediately reminiscent of Dvorak, and the scattered major chords create a pleasant feeling of optimism as Martinu came to the end of his stay in the USA and prepared to sail back to Europe.

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There are other excellent recordings of these works, but, if you can take the piano tone, this Czech duo scores high on idiomatic playing, spontaneity and rhythmic energy. Janet Banks