MARTIN Concerto for Wind Instruments and Piano
This fascinating tribute to Frank Martin is dominated by a chamber edition of nine movements from Ein Totentanz zu Basel im Jahre 1943, a piece Martin composed for his niece, the mime artist Mariette von Meyenberg, to accompany a theatrical presentation of eight meetings with Death. The music, which initially seems tame enough, philosophically derived and therefore harmless, begins to take on an increasingly sombre, ritual air. Martin uses his consummate ease at handling a wide range of materials – in addition to mainstream and contemporary classical currents, he lets himself be influenced by jazz, folk music and the theatre – to work from within an intellectually conservative context to produce occasional moments of authentic emotion, undoubtedly a reflection of the time and place at which they were written. The forces recruited by conductor Matthew Westgate for the recording comprise faculty members, freelancers and top students and the playing is well coached, vital and virtuoso; check out the trumpet riff in ‘Dance with the Athlete’ or the searing alto sax in ‘The Dance with the Mother and her Child’. It captures the emotion.
There is also much to enjoy from the elegant trombonist in the Concerto for Winds and Piano – two movements Martin wrote in 1924 for a Parisian puppet theatre that employed many artists from Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes – but the Zwischen Rhone und Rhein march is barely worth a parody.
The stunning recordings were made at the University of Massachusetts; the large military side instruments called Basel Drums on track 3 play uninterrupted for 90 seconds of pure audiophile hell – or delight.