WORKS: Piano Concertos, Vol. 2: No. 1 in D, H349; No. 2, H. 237; No. 4, H358 (Incantation)
PERFORMER: Giorgio Koukl (piano); Bohuslav Martinu˚ Philharmonic Orchestra, Zlin/Arthur Fagen
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572373
Martinu’s First and Fourth Piano Concertos are among his strangest works. Composed in 1925, the First Concerto seems to head in all kinds of disparate directions: vigorous, Bach-inflected neo-classicism, innocent pastoralism, jazz and, in the slow movement, what appears to be a nod in the direction of the finale of Saint-Säens’s Organ Symphony.
Owing to its awkwardly written piano part, outings for the First Concerto are rare though, in as infectious a performance as this, certainly welcome. The Fourth Concerto, subtitled Incantation, composed in 1956, is entirely consistent in style. There are some marvellous sonic combinations, notably piano and harp, and some forceful moments reminiscent of the Sixth Symphony, but as a whole it’s hard to escape the fact that the work leaves a rather unsettled and nervy impression.
The Second Concerto is a much more rounded experience for the listener than the other two works. Composed in 1934 for the great Czech pianist, Rudolf Firkun, it is generously lyrical and richly Romantic which in the slow movement approaches the heroic. Giorgio Koukl gives energetic and authoritative performances of each of the concertos.
The piano is well recorded, but the orchestral sound is a little on the shallow side, a pity since Arthur Fagen and his orchestra accompany with a fine sense of ensemble. Jan Smaczny