Martinu: Piano Concertos Volume 1

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COMPOSERS: Martinu
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 3 & 5 (Fantasia Concertante); Piano Concertino
PERFORMER: Giorgio Koukl (piano); Bohuslav Martin∞ Philharmonic Orchestra/Zlín Arthur Fagen
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572206

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Martinu’s Piano Concertos come from nearly all parts of his creative life and provide a fascinating barometer of developments in his composing style.

The Third, composed in 1947 shortly after the Fifth Symphony, is one of his most consciously Germanic works with Brahms and Beethoven, in particular, hovering in the middle distance; it is a restless, if often beguiling, work in which the compositional direction is not always clear.

Composed ten years later, the Fifth Piano Concerto has a rather stronger sense of purpose and balances motivic rigour with full-throated lyricism, the latter in the manner of Martinu’s last opera, The Greek Passion.

The Concertino, hardly less substantial than the full-blown Concertos, was composed in Paris in 1937. Its outer movements have a brittle, almost business-like quality; in near-complete contrast, the slow movement is one of the most romantic Martinu ever composed.

Giorgio Koukl understands the ebb and flow of these volatile works well and is certainly up to their technical demands. His strong sense of line is particularly impressive in the faster movements.

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The orchestral accompaniment is mostly alert, though from time to time, rhythmic details could be more convincingly articulated. Piano tone is well captured, but the orchestral sound lacks depth. Jan Smaczny