Martinu Juliette (Three Fragments)
Contrary to some advance publicity for this excellent new disc, Magdalena Kozena is not the only soloist in Martinu's Three Fragments from "Julietta" . Extracted by the composer in 1939 (two years after completing the opera), these three substantial excerpts were designed as a cantata or Singspiel for five singers with orchestra. Martinu hoped to use the cantata to secure a production of the opera in France to which end he set the text in French (unlike the Czech of the opera), thereby returning to the language of Neveux's original play. As it turned out, he was not successful.
At almost 21' and 12' apiece, Martinu's first and last movements seem very substantial for fragments. While showcasing the marvellously lyrical writing for the operatic principals, the extract none the less remains true to the spirit of the original. Thus the surreal fifth scene from Act 2 opens out the expressive landscape after the long patchwork taken from the previous two scenes, while the final extract is essentially the Act 3 finale. Mackerras directs a wonderful performance and while Kozena sings the titlerole beautifully she is in excellent company. Would it be too much to ask that from this kernel a recording of the whole opera with this cast and conductor might grow? A new recording is long overdue, despite the radiance of Supraphon's 1964 issue (6/93) which still regularly graces my CD player.
The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra play superbly throughout, not least in the sensible coupling of Zbynek Vostrak's expert arrangement of three of Julietta's orchestral episodes. Given Supraphon's top-notch sound and in the absence of a complete recording from these performers, I cannot recommend this scintillating disc highly enough.