Yay for Martinu

I have a short piece in today’s Independent about Martinu – the desperately underrated and underplayed composer of more than 400 pieces of music, whose birth in Bohemia in 1890 put him slap bang in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Fortunately he has an anniversary this year – 50 years since his death – so the BBC Symphony Orchestra, which happens to have a Czech principal conductor, Jiri Belohlavek, has grabbed the opportunity to programme all six of his symphonies. I am rather shocked to realise I have never consciously heard a single one of them, and definitely not in the concert hall.

Some of the Martinu works I’ve heard are stunning – intensely personal in voice, moving, full of imagination. Try his Cello Concerto of 1955, recently recorded in an incandescent interpretation by soloist Jiri Barta. Other times, one sometimes has the feeling he is trying almost too hard – I had vaguely mixed feelings about the sextet I heard in Verbier – but this is an endemic situation among the composers of that generation, that situation, those dilemmas. Direction – musical and geographical – was bound to be a major issue, and impacted differently upon each one. Who knows, Martinu could yet prove the unsuspected big hit of the new concert season.

So for Historical Friday, here is (blimey!) the world premiere of Martinu’s Violin Concerto, from a 1943 concert by the amazing Mischa Elman with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Koussevitzky. This is the first part of the first movement, but if you click it through to Youtube you’ll find the rest of the performance there in numerous chunks.

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