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CD Review

Bohuslav Martinů

Piano Works and Drawings

  • Etudes and Polkas (H. 308)
  • Butterflies and Birds of Paradise (H. 127)
  • Sonata for Piano (H. 350)
  • Album Leaf #1 (H. 222)
  • Borová (H. 195)
  • Black Bottom (H. 165)
  • Victorious March of the R.U.R. Sports Club of Polička (H. 129)
Michal Mašek, piano
EMI Classics/Morpheus Art 09990-26916-2 65m
Find it at Amazon

First, a mystery. Why is this CD not generally available? I became aware of it through a review on Classical Net by Robert Cummings (EMI 26916). As Martinů is my favorite composer I was intrigued by the fact that the album included drawings by the composer…mostly when he was younger. I already had three recordings of the etudes and two of the Butterflies and two of the sonata but there are always new insights to be had and this release offered a lagniappe. Then I discovered I wasn't able to find it ANYWHERE. Through Mr. Cummings I got hold of the pianist who kindly sent me a copy of the disc. I urge my readers to email EMI and demand that this be commercially released.

As for the music, since that is the prime interest, this has become my favorite recording of Martinů's piano music. In preparation for this review I also pulled out Firkušný's recording of the Sonata and Etudes as well as Etude recordings by Kaspar on Tudor and Hindart on BIS. Up to now Firkušný was my favorite performer of the Sonata but things change.

For example, in preparation I first decided to listen to Mašek's first movement of the sonata followed by Firkušný. Instead I ended up listening to the first movement by Mašek over half-a-dozen times before going to the latter recording. The first thing I noticed is the sound. The EMI is richer, more resonant and finely detailed. The Firkušný is dry and brittle. Mašek plays the sonata much slower than Firkušný but I think the music benefits from the lingering over details. Firkušný and the other two pianists play the music percussively. Mašek is closer to Debussy than Bartók. That first movement of the sonata brims with ideas that flow into one another and are clearly Czech. While Firkušný is certainly Czech, I don't hear Dvořák in the music like I do with Mašek and the same is true of the other two pianists.

As for the art. It is not the work of a master but it is nice to see it. In fact, one of the pieces is featured on the cover of the BIS CD. One of interest is a series of four wherein the pianist is battling the piano with the piano winning: it sits on top of the pianist in the last frame.

Still, the main reason to get this disc is the music-making. I spend several evenings listening to this as I read. A fantastic release. Now email EMI and persuade them to make it commercially available.

P.S. A few words about the pianist. He was born in the Czech Republic in 1980. He has won many awards and has other recordings he has made. His bio indicates he has been fascinated by the music of Martinů since very early in his playing. This is my first experience with his playing but I will likely check out others.

Copyright © 2012 by Robert Stumpf II.