Martinu: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 5

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COMPOSERS: Martinu
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: National SO of Ukraine/Arthur Fagen
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553350
Time may yet confirm Martinu’s symphonic series as one of the most original reflections of their age (the first five symphonies were composed at yearly intervals from 1941; the great postlude of the Fantaisies symphoniques came in 1953). Each work provides a different structural solution to the gnawing struggle between hope and fear, nostalgia and anguish, so Naxos and Fagen put a wide listenership in their debt by making the full story available at bargain price. This latest instalment in their cycle pairs the grittiest of combats with the most ambivalent of Martinu’s post-war offerings. In the Third, Martinu yokes his usually liberating syncopations, hallmark of his Moravian roots, to a dogged chromatic conflict. This suits Fagen’s rather solid approach and his orchestra’s monochrome sound much better than the brief dance flourishes, bracketed by doubt, of the Fifth’s outer movements. The visionary, sparely scored hope which dawns so belatedly at the end of the earlier symphony, apparently inspired by the Allied landings in Normandy, can hardly fail to be moving; but the dynamic fluctuations of the later finale lack the urgency they need to make sense. Järvi’s Bamberg series for BIS has a forward-moving grasp of the symphonic architecture, and more distinguished woodwind solos in the middle movements, but it does come at nearly three times the price. David Nice

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