Beethoven, Martinu

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Martinu
LABELS: CBC Perspective
WORKS: Symphony No. 6 in F (Pastoral)
PERFORMER: Toronto SO/Karel Ancerl
The boxy sound-quality and prominent high treble hiss betray the origins of this recording. Each piece is taken from a live performance, a concert in January 1972 for the Beethoven, and one in November 1971 for the Martinu. But the shortcomings cannot conceal the artistry of Karel Ancerl, nor the poise of the Toronto Symphony. Ancerl allows the Pastoral to breathe naturally, to unfold warmly as it should, yet there is a slight edge to the reading – the stress of performance, possibly – that prevents the work from meandering, as it often can. Plainly, too, he was able to get the orchestra to listen within itself, for there is a chamber music quality about this playing that speaks of the conductor not as master but as facilitator. There’s some lovely horn detail, too. The Martinu, premiered in 1947, is a completely different kettle of fish, so much so that the reason behind this coupling is hard to fathom. The work, shot through with multifarious influences – Stravinsky, Hindemith – is typically robust, reflecting Martinu’s strong, individual voice, his determined intent, his predilection for abrupt intercutting in his structures. Yet also, underlying it all, there’s a kind of lyricism that allies him closely to his compatriot predecessors, and Ancerl aptly invests his performance with an underlying warmth as well as plenty of excitement. Stephen Pettitt