Martinu Czech Rhapsody; Magic Nights; Nipponari
With Martinu’s mature and middle-period works staples of the repertoire, one forgets that he did not spring, fully formed, into the compositional world as a neoclassicist. Nipponari is a set of seven songs to Japanese poems for soprano and small orchestra written in 1912 when he was in his early twenties. Delightfully scored, there is nothing in its sound world of the later master who here provides a shimmering accompaniment to the wistful texts. In places there are resonances of Rimsky’s Kitezh, too, and British ears may detect stylistic parallels with early Bax, or the Brian of In memoriam. Dagmar Pecková is a radiant soloist.
Magic Nights dates from six years later and uses Chinese texts from the same source as Das Lied von der Erde to enchanting if less exalted effect. There is a touch of Debussy in the orchestral sound, which requires a larger ensemble than Nipponari. L’ubica Rybárska yields nothing to Pecková in beauty of tone.
The major item here, however, is the cantata Czech Rhapsody from 1918 (not the violin and orchestra work of 1945), written just a few months before Magic Nights. It is a rare example of politically motivated music in Martinu’s canon, imbued with patriotic feelings at impending independence, and was his first nationwide success. The grandiloquence of the opening section and close are beautifully caught by Belohlávek and the Pavel Kühn Chorale sings the polyglot text (including Psalm 23) with fervour. The Prague Symphony Orchestra accompanies splendidly throughout and the superb acoustic of the Dvorák Hall is captured superbly. The recordings may be 20 years old but they sound wonderful. Highly recommended.