Martin: Cello Concerto; Ballade; 8 Preludes for piano

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Martin
LABELS: BIS CD
WORKS: Cello Concerto; Ballade; 8 Preludes for piano
PERFORMER: Christian Poltéra (cello), Kathryn Stott (piano); Malmö SO/Tuomas Ollila-Hannikainen
CATALOGUE NO: BIS CD-1637

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Having recorded exemplary performances of cello works by Honegger and Schoeck for BIS, it seemed logical for Christian Poltéra to have now turned his attention to Frank Martin, arguably the most distinguished Swiss composer of the 20th century.

Certainly the Cello Concerto, which Martin composed for Pierre Fournier in 1966, does not deserve to languish in comparative obscurity. It’s a typically suave, sophisticated score, boasting a surprisingly astringent but compellingly rhythmic Finale.

Yet elsewhere here, the mood is much more melancholic, and the haunting modality of the opening unaccompanied solo casts a sombre shadow over the rest of the work.

Poltéra delivers an utterly compelling and committed performance, and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra under Tuomas Ollila-Hannikainen provides both sensitive and dynamic support.

A rival version of the work from 2005 on the Etcetera label from Dutch cellist Quirine Viersen is finely played, though the recorded sound is nothing like as vivid, and the orchestral contribution seems far less focused than on the present release.

Viersen’s disc also features the 1949 Ballade in its alternative version with orchestral accompaniment, whereas Poltéra opts for performing it with piano.

Surprisingly this decision does not prove disadvantageous to the impact of the music since Kathryn Stott is alert to maximising the Ballade’s colouristic elements, and Poltéra delivers the rhapsodic cello line with tremendous ardour.

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Stott then gets a welcome opportunity to demonstrate her own credentials as a soloist, providing an outstanding performance of the Eight Preludes, Martin’s most substantial work for piano. All in all, a wonderful disc.