Martinu Cello Concertos Nos 1 & 2
The performance history of Martinu’s concertos is a chequered affair, with many works not reaching the concert platform in his lifetime. The three cello concertos here provide a typical sample. The neo-Stravinskian Concertino (1924), composed for Maurits Frank, was not played until 1949, ironically in Prague with the composer in exile, while the Second Concerto (1944-45) was not performed until six years after Martinù’s death. The First, by contrast, enjoyed three premieres since it went through three separate versions and with what an array of soloists: Gaspar Cassadó (1931), Pierre Fournier (1939) and Miloš Sádlo (1956).
It is perhaps no surprise that the First Concerto has proved to be one of his more popular creations, full of vigorous and attractive music, beautifully poised as the best of his works are. The single-movement Concertino sacrifices poise for energy, perhaps, but proves winning with its combination of vim and lyricism while the Second Concerto, a fine example of his late style, somehow eludes the appeal of its predecessor. Recorded in 1991, Wallfisch’s consummate virtuosity and considerable lyrical gifts illuminate Martinu’s solo writing like no other. There have been a variety of other recordings of these works, not least by Angelika May for Supraphon (nla), but this – one of Wallfisch’s finest discs – remains the best available, especially with Chandos’s excellent sound.
Calliope’s new disc also boasts fine sound, and splendidly light and airy accounts of the Jazz Suite (1928) and Sinfonietta giocosa (1940) with Claire Désert superb as the latter’s soloist. Although three minutes longer than Vásáry’s Chandos rival, Verrot’s performance is light and full of movement where Vásáry plodded. In the Toccata e due canzoni (1946), by contrast, Verrot’s delicacy of touch makes the work seem a little underpowered. Lidia Bizjak is a fine soloist, though not quite as convincing as Cédric Tiberghien, and the Orchestre de Picardie’s strings are occasionally taxed by the high, virtuoso writing. The Toccata succeeds quite well and the Canzone are atmospheric at times but not consistently. Yet on its own terms the disc has much to commend it, and if you do not know these works, invest in them now.