Martinu Piano Concerto Nos 3 and 5
Close on the heels of Ondine’s marvellous issue of Martinu’s Second and Fourth Piano Concertos (1/10) comes the first in a complete survey of all five from Naxos. Fresh from his seven-disc exploration of the solo piano music, Giorgio Koukl starts with the Romantic Third (1947) and coruscating Fifth (1958), alongside the neo-classical Concertino (1938) from his Parisian period. The three – given in that sequence – make a fascinating programme, especially in these buoyant and exuberant performances.
Martinu’s piano concertos have tended to be overshadowed by those for other instruments, not least for violin and cello, recordings of which have appeared or been reissued recently. None of the three works here ranks, perhaps, in the top flight of this composer’s output but they are all firmly in the next rung down and all should be better known. No 3, with its occasional flashes of Brahmsian or even late-Mozartian sonorities, has never sounded lighter or more vivacious than here. Firkusny, Martinu’s longtime friend and champion (for whom the piece was written), recorded it along with Nos 2 and 4 with Libor Peek (RCA, 4/95), a fine performance but one which is trumped here by the sheer vivacity – and virtuosity – of Koukl’s playing. In the Fifth, which has often sounded mechanical in previous recordings, the music leaps off the page. The finale in particular is hugely enjoyable.
No less impressive is the account of the bracing Concertino, a product of the composer’s full pre-war maturity. Its slighter dimensions perhaps justify the title but not its often serious demeanour; yet the music smiles throughout. Koukl receives splendid support from the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra of Zlín under Arthur Fagen and Naxos’s sound is first rate, clear and bright with the right balance between soloist and orchestra. Warmly recommended.