Martinu – Cello Sonatas Nos. 1, 2 & 3

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Martinu
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Cello Sonatas Nos 1-3; Variations on a Slovak Theme; Variations on a Theme of Rossini
PERFORMER: Paul Watkins (cello), Huw Watkins (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10602

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Martinu’s sonatas and variations for cello and piano comprise one of the most attractive groupings in his large output of chamber music. Although they do not span as wide a gamut as the string quartets, they were written at some of the most important junctures in his creative life.

The First Sonata, from 1939, has much of the tension the composer felt at the outbreak of war when he was effectively barred from his native Czechoslovakia; the Second, composed in 1941 during his exile in the United States, is at times haunted, at others, poignantly nostalgic; written in France in 1952, the last sonata is expansive and exultant, one of Martin∞’s finest post-War compositions.

The Rossini Variations comprise an entertaining occasional piece, but the Variations on a Slovak Theme go far deeper: composed in Martinu’s final year when he knew he was terminally ill, they encompass both defiance and poignancy. 

These excellently-recorded performances are striking throughout. There is a strong sense of ensemble at every stage, but beyond this, the performers have an instinctive grasp of the often mercurial dynamics of this music, notably their impressive negotiation of the Third Sonata’s volatile second movement.

Indeed, all of the sonatas have a strong sense of authenticity, coupled with a real feeling for the composer’s developmental process which at no point tips over into the routinely motoric.

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Perhaps best of all is their reading of the Variations on a Slovak Theme which manages to capture both the music’s pungency and expressive depth while never resorting to sentimentality. Altogether an enormously impressive disc. Jan Smaczny