Early Orchestral Works of Bohuslav Martinů – Volume 2

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COMPOSERS: Bohuslav Martinu
LABELS: Toccata Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Bohuslav Martinů
WORKS: Early Orchestral Works, Vol. 2: Stin (The Shadow) – Ballet in One Act
PERFORMER: Dorota Szczepańska (soprano), Anna Maria Staskiewicz (violin), Agnieszka Kopacka (piano); Sinfonia Varsovia/ Ian Hobson
CATALOGUE NO: TOCC 0249  

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The Martinů revival enjoyed a serious boost with the release of the Smetana Trio’s complete recording of the Piano Trios. For those who are still feeling their way towards a joined-up understanding of the composer’s character – or characters, plural – from passing familiarity with his mature operas and symphonies, Ian Hobson and Sinfonia Varsovia’s world premiere performance of The Shadow offers further insight into the composer’s developing voice and magpie ear.

Writing in 1958, Martinů was dismissive of his 1916 one-act ballet, and of the artist Alois Kohout’s libretto – a hack-Symbolist fantasy of a twilight encounter between Death and a pubescent maiden. The core sound is unmistakably Czech, with a tang of Suk in the blissed-out divisi strings, and although there are traces of Impressionism in the eddying figures for harp and celesta, the loudest external voices are those of Beethoven and, in the swooning waltzes, Richard Strauss.

It is juvenilia but it is attractive juvenilia, with an enigmatic, wordless offstage melody for soprano Dorota Szczepańska. The most arresting individual performances come from pianist Agnieszka Kopacka and violinist Anna Maria Staskiewicz. Sinfonia Varsovia play with spirit and engagement under Hobson, their string sound pure and direct in all but the highest passages.

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Anna Picard