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Friday, June 19, 2015

Maxim Rysanov Plays Martinu, Rhapsody-Concerto

Perhaps you are not aware that Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) lived out much of his later years in the United States. After fleeing occupied France in 1941, he remained in the US until 1953, then returned again in 1955 for a brief period. On Maxim Rysanov Plays Martinu (BIS 2030) we happily get the viola music from his US phase, played with fervor and sensitivity by Rysanov, the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiri Belohlavek, and chamber partners Alexander Sitkovetsky on violin and Katya Apekisheva on piano.

The program consists of four substantial works from the era--the "Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola and Orchestra" (1952), "Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola (Duo No. 1)" (1947), "Duo No. 2 for Violin and Viola" (1950) and the "Sonata for Viola and Piano" (1955).

The "Rhapsody-Concerto" forms the centerpiece of the program and gives us excellent mature Martinu, sure of his inventive powers, filled with musical ideas that reflect a tempered modernism along with the Czech elements so much a part of the composer's general approach. It is lyrical yet more brittle than romantic, and very well played in this new version.

The chamber works that follow give us more of the essential Martinu. Rysanov and his chamber associates rise to the occasion. The two violin-viola duos have a folkish, neo-classical directness and a fullness that belies the instrumentation. The sonata takes advantage of the piano presence for harmonically advanced excursions that are lyrical yet modulatory in the appealing ways Martinu's later works often exhibit.

Martinu was a true original. These works bring that out fully, and the focus on the viola as wonderfully played by Maestro Rysanov gives the music a thematic coherence and a lively exuberance that make listening a real delight. The music has a searching quality and clearly Martinu was ever evolving, even at this late date.

Highly recommended.


  1. Hi Grego

    I'm still around...!

    I'm also a big fan of the Martinu of the symphonies, so this sounds right up my street. And you're dead right: even in his sixties, he never stopped seeking out new avenues of expression. After the neoclassicism of the first five symphonies, for example, the sixth and final one comes as something of a shock: a frequently hallucinatory quasi-fantasia that's barely contained by the form.

    Best wishes, as ever,

  2. Thanks Chris for the ever-astute comments. Yes, if you love the symphonies this CD will give you lots to appreciate.
    All best,