WORKS: Ballades for piano, trombone, viola, cello, saxophone & flute
PERFORMER: Roderick Elms (piano), Ian Bousfield (trombone), Philip Dukes (viola), Peter Dixon (cello), Martin Robertson (saxophone), Celia Chambers (flute)London Philharmonic/Matthias Bamert
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9380 DDD
Frank Martin is a curiously perplexing composer to pigeon-hole. Never exactly in the vanguard of change, he could hardly be described as musically conservative either. It is difficult to decide whether the often compelling amalgamation of French sensibilities and the German tradition, from Bach to Schoenberg, should be attributed to his Swiss nationality or to his awareness of musical trends developing across Europe.
The six Ballades, for assorted solo instruments and ensembles, are in many ways representative of Martin’s distinctive combination of harmonic mastery, chromatic intensity, rhythmic vitality and clarity of form. Individually these gritty mini-concertos have rightfully wedged their way into the repertoires of their respective instruments. And yet, while they are remarkably disparate, heard as a job lot they can induce a touch of indigestion.
There is really very little to choose between these commendable discs. Bamert manages to draw slightly more out of his performers than Chailly and, along with the piano Ballade, I find the cello and viola Ballades, exclusive to the Chandos disc, to be particularly compelling works. Chailly substitutes the Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, which finds Martin at his very best, and thus provides enough of a contrast to make this disc a marginally more satisfying all-round experience.