Frank Martin In terra pax/The Four Elements
Sometime in 1944, towards the end of the Second World War, Swiss Radio approached Frank Martin with a commission for a work to be performed at the conclusion of the hostilities. The result was In terra pax, which Ernest Ansermet conducted in 1945 and which he eventually recorded in the 1960s. (I mention its provenance as nowhere does Richard Langham Smith’s otherwise useful note allude to its origins.) Ansermet’s pioneering record has just been transferred to CD, and is included in a recent Double Decca set (reviewed on page 50). Matthias Bamert has now put us in his debt with his impressive ongoing survey of Martin’s output, to which this disc is a distinguished addition. In terra pax is an eloquent and noble work, in every way characteristic of the master. The singers are not always quite as impressive as in the Ansermet set, but in every other respect the new recording is superior.
Ansermet was a lifelong and loyal champion of Martin’s music and the composer paid him a handsome tribute with Les quatre elements, written in 1963 to celebrate the great conductor’s eightieth birthday the following year. It is a work of keen and vibrant imaginative force. As usual the textures are pale but luminous, translucent and subtle; the invention is highly personal and distinctive. This is its first recording since Haitink’s in the late 1960s – coupled with the roughly contemporaneous Cello Concerto – and supersedes it. As with most of Martin’s music, the rewards are richer on each occasion one returns to it.
As this series continues Martin emerges as a figure of far greater substance than he was given credit for by the arbiters of taste in the 1960s and 1970s. Let us hope that Chandos will soon give us Le vin herbe, Le mystere and Golgotha – and that one day some bold company will put The Tempest on to disc. In the meantime this is strongly recommended.'