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COMPOSERS: Bohuslav Martinu
LABELS: BBC Music Direct
WORKS: Rhapsody-Concerto; Three Madrigals; Duo No. 2; Viola Sonata
PERFORMER: Maxim Rysanov (viola), Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin), Katya Apekisheva (piano); BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Jiří Bělohlávek


Martinů was a violinist, but he had a feeling for the viola’s elusive soul equalled only by Hindemith, who of course played what he wrote. For a gentle way into the composer’s basic idiom – oft repeated but never quite the same – try the start of the Rhapsody-Concerto, all syncopated, lilting Moravian dance rhythms and featuring the ecstatic strain celebrated in Martinů’s opera Julietta but indebted to Janáček’s Taras Bulba. The first movement is pure pastoral with fewer tensions than usual in the painful-exultant music of Martinů’s exile, the second less stable with a heartbreaking resolution hinting at a theme in Dvoπák’s American Quartet.


Maxim Rysanov, the tone of his 1780 Guadagnini viola a miraculous combination of dark vigour with the translucency of a viola d’amore, has the most idiomatic partner in Jiři Bělohlávek conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The consonance with violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky in the two Duos of 1947 and 1950 is even more miraculous. They play as one, swooping under and over each other. The puzzlingly-titled Madrigals – simple but energetic outer movements, more complex evolution in the heart of the piece – are a difficult act to follow, but this pair finds a supreme ecstasy in the coda of the Second Duo’s opening Allegro. Katya Apekisheva could be a spikier, less soft-pedalling partner in the late Viola Sonata, but here, too, Rysanov’s golden song carries us through to another perfect peace. Luminous sound, wide-referencing notes by Michael Crump and of course that wonderful cover photo of Martinů with his cat complete a sense of almost unreal happiness.