Martinů Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2
Thomas Albertus Irnberger (violin); Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava/Heiko Mathias Förster
Gramola 99178 (hybrid CD/SACD) 51:10 mins
When Martinů died in 1959 he left – like Bartók a decade-and-a-half before him – only one official violin concerto. These are the works now known in each composer’s case as their Second Violin Concerto, both having had earlier essays in the genre posthumously restored. And just as Bartók’s two concertos are very different, Martinů’s make a strongly contrasting pair, the First (1931) fizzing with the confidence of his early Parisian period, the Second (1943) showing the more substantial mastery he had acquired by the time of his American exile. The personal voice of both concertos also reminds us that the violin was Martinů’s own instrument.
Here the Austrian violinist Thomas Albertus Irnberger is equally convincing in both works, playing with silvery brilliance and dusky introspection. Ostrava has a great tradition of performing Martinů, and the orchestra sounds fully inside the idiom under its German music director, Heiko Mathias Förster. Irnberger may show less classical restraint in these works than the great Josef Suk, who recorded both (the First shortly after giving its premiere in 1973), but he finds his own way to their emotional messages, especially in the Second. With its ‘Julietta chords’ tugging away, there is a bittersweetness in this music, yet the polka-inflected finale also displays the high spirits that Martinů often mustered in his American works. At a duration of 51 minutes, the disc could be more generous; most recordings of these concertos add another of Martinů’s concertante works, but the programme is fully satisfying as it stands.