Martinu: Piano Music, Vol. 1: Eight Preludes; Esquisses de Danses; Fenêtre sur le jardin; Fables etcPiano Music, Vol. 2: Butterflies and Birds of Paradise; Film en miniature; Puppets I-III etc

COMPOSERS: Martinu
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Martinu
WORKS: Piano Music, Vol. 1: Eight Preludes; Esquisses de Danses; Fenêtre sur le jardin; Fables etc
Piano Music, Vol. 2: Butterflies and Birds of Paradise; Film en miniature; Puppets I-III etc

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PERFORMER: Giotgio Koukl (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557914
Martin?’s piano music spans nearly the whole of his career, including many unpublished works, from as far back as 1909 to the Adagio ‘In memorian’ composed in 1957 two years before he died. These two volumes of a projected complete recording of Martin?’s piano music bode well for future of the series. Neither is arranged strictly chronologically – a good thing for those not wanting to buy the entire run of CDs – although the second focuses largely on early works.

The many facets of Martin?’s musical personality shine through both CDs. Both of them are beautifully planned, with the first volume featuring his fascination in the late 1920s with jazz. Martin?’s deep understanding of the idiom produces music which is much more than just pastiche. The ‘Blues’ from the Eight Preludes of 1929 link the familiar stylistic traits of jazz with an often impressionistic approach to harmony and piano sonority, a tendency shared by the Three Sketches composed two years earlier; the concluding Foxtrot is, however, pure ragtime. Alongside the jazz-influenced pieces are some unpretentious musical musings from 1938 on a cottage garden untouched by the gathering clouds of war, a wry, folk-like group entitled Fables and a charmingly intimate group of three pieces relating to Christmas. Giorgio Koukl manages this repertoire with great poise and considerable verve in the jazz-inspired works; the limited dynamic range, not helped by the rather dry recorded sound, robs the music of a certain expressive dimension, however.

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The second disc begins with three sets of early works. Entitled Puppets, they were composed between 1912 and 1924. Martin?’s attraction to Fauré and Debussy is clearly in evidence, but Chopin and Dvo?ák are also presences here. Among the numerous other pieces on the disc are the evocative Butterflies and Birds of Paradise, again written with Debussy hovering in the middle distance, and Martin?’s charming evocation of the booksellers on the banks of the Seine in Paris, Les bouquinistes du Quai Malaquais. Once again Koukl’s performances are idiomatic and rather more colourful than on the first disc.Jan Smaczny