MARTINÜ Bouquet of Flowers NOVÁK Philharmonic Dances
Martinů never heard a live performance of his folk cantata, or ‘cycle of compositions to folk texts’, Kytice (‘Bouquet of Flowers’, 1937). Indeed, he seems not to have heard any performance until a few months before his death in 1959 when a copy of Karel Ančerl’s 1955 recording, made after the first concert performance, reached Paul Sacher, with whom the composer and his wife were living in exile.
Kytice was written originally for Czech Radio for broadcasting, though it was always viable as a concert item. It consists of eight movements, arranged in pairs: a breezy, brief Overture, two interludes and settings of five Moravian folk texts from František Sušil’s collection. Together, they make a rather double-edged, light-and-shade sequence, the Overture’s brightness offset by the cautionary tale of Uliana (who poisons her brother so she can run off with no fewer than four hussars!), the light pairing of ‘Idyll’ and ‘The Little Girl Cowherds’ followed by a martial Intrada and baleful ‘His Kind Sweetheart’ (the tale of a prisoner writing to his girl for succour after his family fail him). The final pairing of ‘A Carol’ and the 14-minute ‘Man and Death’ enormously expands the cantata’s expressive frame of reference.
Although Ančerl’s recording has been issued several times over the past 50 years, it is currently unavailable. Tomáš Netopil’s new account is a more than satisfactory alternative, gentler and softer than the older version but with no loss of precision, not least in the folk-cum-Stravinskian rhythms. To cap it all, the first studio recording of Jan Novák’s scintillating, Martinů-esque Philharmonic Dances (1955 56): why has it taken 61 years for this terrific tribute to the Czech Philharmonic to arrive in the studio? Buy and enjoy!