Martinu: Music for Violin and Orchestra, Vol. 4

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COMPOSERS: Martinu
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Martinu
WORKS: Music for Violin and Orchestra, Vol. 4: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Bohuslav Matousek (violin); Czech PO/Christopher Hogwood
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67674

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Martinu’s First Violin Concerto has a curious history. Composed in 1931 for the American violinist, Samuel Dushkin, it was subject to numerous revisions prompted by the soloist before a final version arrived in 1933. Dushkin’s failure to premiere the work and his refusal to allow others to perform it meant that its first performance was not given until 1973, 14 years after Martinu’s death. The outer movements are very much in Martinu’s neo-classical manner with vigorous motor rhythms and plenty of opportunity for solo virtuosity. The slow movement strikes an ironic pose but rises to a passionate climax. Fine as the First Concerto is, the Second, composed in Martinu’s richest period of orchestral writing, the mid-1940s, is one of his great masterpieces. Overtly Romantic, the Concerto has a huge emotional range; the first movement alone encapsulates epic tragedy and exultation in a strongly symphonic developmental frame which never gets in the way of ravishing lyricism.In these beautifully recorded performances, both Christopher Hogwood and Bohuslav Matousek have a profound understanding of Martinu’s style and the Czech Philharmonic responds with radiant playing – just try the start of the slow movement of Concerto No. 2. There is no finer performance of the First Concerto available, and their way in the Second Concerto has a persuasive sense of purpose that quite equals Jiπí Belohlávek and Isabelle Faust’s fine performance on Harmonia Mundi (reviewed in July).