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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Martinu, La revue de cuisine, Holst-Sinfonietta

Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) wrote many of his works in a signature style which, while original and instantly recognizable, had certain melodic-harmonic contours that gave them a certain similarity, nearly bordering on formula. Nonetheless virtually all of those works remain worth hearing and appreciating. However he also wrote music that was considerably distanced from those parameters. Today's disk contains four such compositions.

What is at hand for our listening pleasure is a Naxos (8.572485) release by the Holst-Sinfonietta, Klaus Simon conducting and on piano, with Robert Hill as harpsichord soloist. The four works were written between 1927 and 1959 and so cover his entire career.

They are works for chamber orchestra, each with a unique stylistic imprint. The Concerto for Harpsichord and Small Orchestra (1935) shows the influence of neo-classic period Stravinsky without a resorting to a direct imitation. It's jaunty and absorbing.

Chamber Music No. 1 ("Les fetes nocturnes") (1959) has some of the neo-classic traits again, but this time there is more whimsy, contrast and a Bohemian folk dance feel to the music at times.

Les rondes (1930) is in six short movements, has a syncopated feel and, again, middle-period Stravinsky as part of its heritage.

The rendition of La revue de cuisine: Ballet du Jazz (1927) gives us the complete ten movements of the pivotal score. It's the most syncopated, jazz-influenced music of the lot. As we know, virtually all of the jazz-flavored works coming out of Europe and American from the '20s through '40s were not really quite "jazz" the way King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Count Basie or Benny Goodman might have played it. Nonetheless there is much fine music to be savored, and La revue de cuisine belongs there with the best of them.

In fact all four works are neglected gems. Thoroughly enjoyable, bursting with charm and dash, these are works that give us a Martinu not often encountered in recorded form. Maestros Hill, Simon and the Holst-Sinfonietta do an excellent job recreating the spirit of these works. It's the sort of brighten-your-day early-mid modern chamber music you will probably find yourself gravitating towards for many listens, if you are like me. Thoroughly recommended.

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