The music of Bohuslav Martinů still, for some unaccountable reason, has not quite received the appreciation it so deserves. He wrote 15 operas - how many have you heard? I can only count a scant handful that I've seen live, although Julietta has appeared, somehow, twice (once in a full staging sung in English at English National Opera in 2012 conducted by Edward Gardner, the other in a semi-staged performance at the Barbican in 2009 with the BBC forces conducted by Jiří Bĕlohlávek and starring Magdalena Kožená, sung in French). The BBC and the much-missed Bĕlohlávek did much in London to attempt to bring Martinů's orchestral music to the public's attention. Good to see this current release, then, offering Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2.
A Czech composer, Martinů (born 1890) left his homeland for Paris in 1923 after a period of study with Josef Suk; while in France, there was no doubting the influence of French music on his output. He remained in Paris until 1940; from 1841-53, he was in the States, a country that supported him well. He finally left the USA and returned to France (for Nice) in 1953; he died in Switzerland in 1959.
The First Concerto was composed in Paris; it's not hard to hear the influence of Stravinsky. It was commissioned by Samuel Dushkin (who also enjoyed a close relationship wtih Stravinsky) although it was never played by him. A virtuosic piece, it meets its equal in the combination of Zimmermann and Jakub Hrůša in a performance of deft delight. Here's the first movement:
The second movement exudes a lovely, piquant sweetness:
No stranger to this concerto, you can also hear a full performance with the Berliner Philharmoniker, again with Hrůša, a most sympathetic musical partner (as Hrůša's performances in the UK with the Philharmonia have proved):
The Second Violin Concerto opens with an orcherstral cry: late-Romantic, heart-on-sleeve emotions are the order of the day here:
The slow movement is a breath of fresh air:
The whirlwind finale is remarkable, both in conception and in this performance. One can find the essence of French lightness, but with the composer's own signature. This is a magnificent performance; in fact it's probably fair to say that these two performances take pride of place in the catalogue now.
Here's a rather nice promo video from BIS regarding Zimmermann's performance of Bartók's Sonata for Solo Violin:
This is a gritty performance of another piece written in America (in 1944). A rigorous streak runs through Bartók's invention (the first two movements are a Tempo di ciaccona followed by a Fuga marked "risoluto"). Yet that doesn't mean the music is inhumane, and Zimmermann pinpoints the humanity behind this - much as one might in Bach. The work was actually written in 1943/44 for Yehudi Menuhin, who commissioned it in November 1943. It is notoriously difficult technically (particularly the fugue) and yet contains a movement of the utmost expressivity, the "Melodia," where Zimmermann is beautifully song-like and sweet-toned:
... all this, before the Presto finale sweeps you off your feet in giddy passages alternating with a happy, Hungarian-flavoured tune.
A wonderful disc. The repertoire choices could hardly be bettered (so much better to have that meaty, substantial Bartók rather than a token filler); the recording is fabulous.