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Friday, July 15, 2016

Martinu, The White Dove, Songs 4, Jana Hrochova

Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) has more than one period, espouses more than one style, and so can continually surprise as one explores his work as a whole. Today's review ventures into the fourth and final volume of his songs in the Naxos series. The White Dove (Naxos 8.573447) gives us a good deal of Slovak folk roots on the principal offering, the lengthy "New Slovak Songs" (1920).

Mezzo-soprano Jana Hrochova shows exemplary expressive power without a hint of cloying sentimentality; Giorgio Koukl provides poetically pianistic accompaniment of the highest order.

The 30 songs that comprise "New Slovak Songs" more or less invariably have a minor mode folk flavor, tempered by Martinu's early modern-impressionist-post-romantic sensibilities. Some have a pronounced dance feel; others are more reflective. All give us a side of Martinu that is more firmly "nationalist" than much of his work, rich in the song traditions of the Slovakian countryside, yet tempered with compositional twists and turns. One on occasion may be favorably reminded of Bartok in his more overtly folk-oriented phase, yet there is a Martinu-esque stamp to it all.

"The Three Virgins" (1910) enjoys its premiere recording. It is a short, single song that refreshes with its major-minor-chromatic modernist synthesis.

"Nursery Rhymes" (1940), also in its first recording, belies the grave state of the world about Martinu at the time with playful, delightful bits of lighthearted but musically substantive fun.

So there you have it. This is somewhat atypical Martinu so not an ideal disk with which to begin an exploration into his music. But those already familiar will find this a most rewarding and pleasurably substantive example of another side of his musical personality. The performances are excellent. Recommended.

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