The playing is so sexy, it hurts….

The playing is so sexy, it hurts….


norman lebrecht

March 24, 2018

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

It feels like I’ve spent half my life trying to persuade people that the next composer they should discover is Bohuslav Martinu. A Czech of limitless melodic permutations, he takes the legacies of Dvorak and Janacek forward into an early modern idiom, infused by a decade of living in Paris. I know no work of Martinu’s that outlasts my interest. He is incapable of being boring. This jam-packed recording presents three of his most scintillating works. If they don’t convert you to Martinu, nothing will….

Read on here.

And here.


  • Michael says:

    An excellent composer. I’ve long felt his Frescoes of Piero della francesca his greatest work, certainly one of his more popular. The symphonies are fantastic. There is an oboe concerto that is very fine. Rarely heard music in the United States. I have many recording on my shelf of this composer’s music, mostly performed by the Czech Philharmonic, who play this music like virtually nobody else can.

  • REGERFAN says:

    Wow, I thought I was a big Martinu enthusiast, but NL is all in.
    I don’t think everything he did was great – sometimes he loses inspiration and uses one of his “formulas” (oscillating between 2 neighboring notes, fanfare in B-flat major, syncopated folk-like melody).

    But at his best (Double Concerto, Symphony 6) he is a terrific composer, and there is a lot to discover!

    • Sixtus says:

      Indeed. THE Martinu double concerto is the one for two string orchestras, piano and timpani. The language is different but the sound world resembles Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Both are masterpieces, as is my favorite Martinu symphony, the Fourth.

  • Jeremy Wardle says:

    An amusing typo ‘…for viol and orchestra’

    Anything but viola 😉

    But thanks for recommending

  • Rob says:

    Sounds like Bax on crack

  • John Borstlap says:

    Indeed a very original composer, mixing very different ingredients in his language. But in many of his pieces, you never know what will happen next, so you remain glued to the narrative, which is often entirely irregular and confused, as in this piano concerto:

    It has something crazy about it, and something fundamentally disordered, as if sketches of very different pieces have been unintentionally mixed. But always interesting and surprising, and how often can we say that of 20C music?

    I think his ‘Julietta’ is fantastic, not so much an opera but a surrealist music theatre piece taking you into the utterly Unreal.

  • Mark says:

    Mischa Elman’s broadcast recording of Martinu’s Violin Concerto No. 2 is worth seeking out – a great performance of an underrated work.

  • MacroV says:

    Having just spent 3 years in Prague, I haven’t quite noticed the neglect of Martinu others might see; I even saw some of the operas. But I share NL’s love of this wonderful composer; he doesn’t sound like anyone else. I’m happy to report that clarinet players are doing their part – his Sonatina is definitely standard rep.

    • Sixtus says:

      Czech radio’s 24/7 all-classical streaming channel — D-dur — features lots of Czech composers, Martinu prominent among them. It is also a blessed rarity among streaming classical channels in offering performances of complete works, even operas, all with verbal intros and outros (in Czech). Even the online playlist schedule is accurate though the playlist does repeat eventually. Wednesday evenings (European time) they stream archived live performances from around the world.

  • HBoyle says:

    Definitely time for a re-evaulation. The 6th symphony is as good a place as any to start…

  • Mike Schachter says:

    Czech composers, from Zelenka through Janacek, are unlike those from anywhere else. Still getting to know Martinu

    • JoBe says:

      Try the oratorio Gilgamesh, it’s one of his mightiest work! The best recording, by far, is the one conducted by Zdenek Kosler. There are two Belohlavek recordings as well but both are stiff and glum in comparison – caveat emptor!

  • REGERFAN says:

    Back in 1990, I drove into (then) post-revolution Czechoslovakia. One of my objectives was to visit martinu’s hometown of Policka and see the church tower in which he lived as a child. I didn’t know what (if any) commemorations they would have there, but when I got there I was surprised to see blue “BM” signs everywhere! It escaped my mind that 1990 was the 100th anniversary of Martinu’s birth.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Did you climb to the top of the tower? I learned a lot about Martinu by doing that…

      • buxtehude says:

        I would so like to do that — one day! I often try to imagine the tiny that housed five people; just how tiny is it?

        But the main thing, from his own recollection much later — was his constant engagement, as a child, with the sky, and fantasy of flying, above the town, through the clouds, away and anywhere. That’s how so much of his music begins, rising up into the sky and following the surfaces of the earth. Or so I imagine, and it really helps.

        Onward Norman! I too believe that BM’s day will come again and massively.

        • The View from America says:

          “I too believe that BM’s day will come again and massively.”

          … you and everyone else who suffers from constipation. 😉

      • REGERFAN says:

        Not in 1990 as the tower was closed. There was a museum in another building. I actually got there as it was near closing time. I pretended not to understand that I was supposed to leave so I could see the exhibits.

        I returned in 2001 and it was possible to climb the tower and see the Martinu family quarters. Great experience although they booted my car and I had to pay a fine to be able to leave town.

        It’s not far from the hometown of Gustav Mahler (Kaliste, near Humpolec). In 2001 I drove to Kaliste, stopped in at the convenience store, asked where Mahler’s was, and the guy took out a key and let me into the house across the street. It had “Gustav Mahler” painted on the side. There’s a small exhibit there.

  • Michael Comins says:

    Among the great duets for violin and viola are his Three Madrigals, a three movement piece written for and first recorded by Joseph and Lillian Fuchs.

  • esfir ross says:

    In my obscure Czech composers recital program “La review de cuisine” suite by Bohuslav Martinu transcribed for piano. Fun to play.

    • REGERFAN says:

      That is so cool! I’ve never been able to get the right group together to do the work in it’s original form. Would be fun to play a piano transcription.

      • buxtehude says:

        This might be his best-known ballet; it was produced in NY last year in a smallish space. It has a very funny story and deserves to be danced (though I’ve yet to see it). “Revue” in M.’s lingo carries suggestion of burlesque.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    His opera JULIETTA/JULIETTE is out of this world. (Still waiting for a complete recording that does it justice . . .)

    • buxtehude says:

      There are 16 operas and 15 ballets, some with singing. It has been a long long wait for even a single one of these produced and filmed with English subtitles. Julietta The Key to Dreams and The Epic of Gilgamesh, a giant cantata will I hope come first.

      I’ve been searching for the Czech Ministry of Soft Power so far without success. There is a semi-official edition of the complete works underway but at the current rate it will take longer than the Bach-Gesellschaft-Ausgabe. At present there are significant works that were “published” only as photocopies of the manuscript and are said to be hard to read in performance.

      • JoBe says:

        Buxtehude, I believe the Epic of Gilgamesh is more an oratorio in three parts than a cantata. In any case, it is a truly grand work.

        • buxtehude says:

          You’re right, though it’s sometimes called a cantata, my bad. Fiddling with this (especially language of the text) occupied M almost up to his death, clearly he placed much importance on it.

  • Zalman says:

    Martinu is very well known, and played often. There are reasons he is not more popular. Save your concern for truly neglected composers, such as Nicolai Berezowsky, and among Czechs, Josef Suk, though he is probably quite popular there. Carlos Salzedo’s masterpieces are sadly fading from view.

    • buxtehude says:

      No way.

    • JoBe says:

      One could keep a list of major 20th-century composers who are neglected, overlooked or rather forgotten: Roberto Gerhard, Wladimir Vogel, Goffredo Petrassi, even Karel Husa… Martinu is indeed rather more famous in comparison but he still is a bit relegated behind the likes of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky. A matter of nationality, perhaps?

  • Martinu says:

    Martinu is one of my favorites – he wrote so much that I constantly keep getting to know new works.
    All his six symphonies are masterpieces – my favorite is the 3rd, painful and tragic.
    The Concerto for double string orchestra, piano and timpani is, in my view, among his greatest, and one of the best works of the 20th century. Written during the horrible times of the Munich accord in 1938, it carries the horror of the forthcoming war.
    La Revue de cuisine – a tiny ballet – jazzy and full of fun.The Charleston will make you dance, smiling.
    The Nonet – one of his final works. Lyrical and touching.
    Bouquet of flowers – a kind of cantata, so beautiful and lyrical. Recently came a new recording on Supraphon
    Recently I came to know the Toccata e due Canzoni – mesmerizing, especially the second movement.
    And so many more!

    I visited Policka several times – the famous tower was closed (once for renovation, second time because it was too cold). Climbed to the top only on the third visit..
    Go, start your Martinu voyage – it is worth it!

    • Paul Davis says:

      The Policka church tower is a gripping experience. You can understand something of Martinu’s spatial, almost extraterrestrial language, especially if you imagine what it was for a young child to grow up(!) there. I was also amoze and fascinote with the small museum, surprisingly revealing and informative with contemporary clips, news items and reviews. All well worth the trip. To your already excellent and well-commented list, i’d add, for pure pleasure, “Tre Ricecare” – best by CzPhil/Turnovsky, (avoid Belohlavek and Hogwood- unfortunately!)
      Bouquet of Flowers would surely be a hit at the Proms, so gorgeous!

  • Stephen A. says:

    Check out Martinu’s ‘early’ works on Toccata. Very different from the body of his ‘mature’ works. Thanks to Martin Anderson of Toccata, we get to see a different side of BM.

  • Stuard Young says:

    Norman, thank you for your Martinu review. I look forward to hearing this, as I have not yet heard a recording of the Concerto for Two Pianos which has taken my breath away as a concert broadcast of the piece performed by the Lebecque sisters did some years ago. Thanks also for stimulating interest in Martinu’s compositions. Though I have enjoyed this composer since I purchased Symphony 4 conducted by Turnovsky when it was released on LP, I have only been able to hear the Frescoes (Behlolavek) and Symphony 4 (Sawallisch) in concerts by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Martinu is sadly underperformed here.

    • Paul Davis says:

      Turnovsky’s Martinu 4th Symphony is marvellous, the first recording i had of the work, still never surpassed, in my opinion, (and uncut!). Also, the Labeque sisters’ performances of the 2-piano concerto in recent years have been fantastic!

      • buxtehude says:

        The sound quality is harsh in this vid but this couple outsexes and out rocks les Labeques by a mile IMO; check this 2nd mvt from 6:35:

        • Paul Davis says:

          Thank you for the link, well worth a listen, excellent piano duo. The sound quality works against it, being recorded in a cramped acoustic, and altho Bechsteins give a light, penetrating brilliance, they lack some body of sound and warmth. I thunk it would be hard to outseques the Labex,(!), but what i liked in their recent performances was the orchestral partnership, particularly the demented version with Pappano in Rome. Here, this orchestra is worthy but just a bit staid. Still, every new version brings its own quality.

          BTW, the Labeques have Martinu history; the first LP i ever heard of the young duo, (1972?), was the Hindemith 2piano sonata & Martinu 3 Danses Tcheques. The sleeve foto was also very seques-y.

  • Rob says:

    Just listened to the 3rd Symphony. Very nice.

  • Paul Davis says:

    The composer closest to my heart; something indefinable….harmonies, textures, colors, rythmic bounce… all his personal language moves me like no other…quite inexplicable. Even if i admit that Martinu composed too much and often repeated the same formulae, it doesn’t change my love and admiration for his works. I was furious to have missed the concert of these concertos given in Marseille by these very performers so it’s marvellous to be able to catch it on CD. Martinu had a Marseille connexion as well, having taken refuge there, (chez famille Pastré), after escaping from Paris in 1940.

    The Nemtanu sisters are marvellous musicians, i’m sure the performances are as fine as reported. I don’t kno the other players but am impatient to hear.

  • buxtehude says:

    I want to recommend again his valedictory piano concerto, the fifth. Tremendous forward momentum gathers after a stroll round through his old procedures; in the end everything is flying through the air: trains, a galloping horse…