Recorded on 07/01/2005, uploaded on 03/23/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
"10/10 - Koh offers three works for violin and orchestra by three
very different Eastern European composers, none of them over-exposed
and all of them distinctive. In other words, the complete program is as
coherent and well thought-out as the performances are outstanding." -
"Jennifer Koh is a risk-taking, high-octane player of the kind who
grabs the listener by the ears and refuses to let go. . . . A scorching
talent that should on no account be missed." - The Strad
"[Carlos] Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra perform . . . with exuberance, commitment and edge." - The New York Times
Eight years younger than Szymanowski, Bohuslav
Martinů (1890-1959) spent his formative years in very diff erent circumstances.
Instead of living on a country estate, he grew up in a church bell tower, where
his father worked three jobs: cobbler, bell-ringer, and town fi re warden. The
town was Polička in Bohemia, then a province of the Austrian Empire, now the
Czech Republic. The boy showed amazing talent on the violin; townspeople helped
his family raise money to send him to the Prague Conservatory in 1906. Though
he never achieved academic success, the wider artistic horizons of Prague
stimulated a number of his early compositions. A major event, pointing the way
to future surroundings and experiences, was the 1908 Prague premiere of
Debussy's opera Pelléas et Mélisande, a work that deeply aff ected and inspired
Martinů. He grew discontented with conservatory routine and returned home,
where the World War I cataclysm passed him by: never robust, he managed to
avoid military conscription while continuing to compose and give music lessons.
He would return to Prague to play violin in the Czech Philharmonic, and the
first of his many travels abroad took place when the orchestra toured Western
Europe, including Paris, in 1919. Four years later, he decided to abandon
symphonic playing and returned to Paris to take advanced composition lessons
with Albert Roussel.
In Paris, Martinů
encountered not only the teaching of Roussel but also the revolutionary styles
of Stravinsky and the iconoclastic group known as Les Six, which included
Poulenc, Milhaud, and Honegger. Like them, Martinů was fascinated by the new
transatlantic style called jazz. He was also influenced by the 1920s trends
known as neo-Classic and neo-Baroque: a look back toward forms and
instrumentations of the 18th century reinterpreted with 20th-century sounds.
His works of the 1920s and Thirties were performed in Paris and also back home
in the newly-created nation of Czechoslovakia. He also attracted the notice of
Russian émigré conductor Serge Koussevitzky, who would have a powerful infl
uence on his later career.
Perhaps his most
important encounter in Paris, however, was with Charlotte Quennehen, whom he
married in 1931. A professional dressmaker and woman of exceptional
resourcefulness, steadfastness, and loyalty, she stood by her husband through
poverty, infi delity, exile, and illness. The Martinůs' situation in Paris
became precarious in the late 1930s, after the Nazis took over Czechoslovakia.
As the Czech opposition's cultural attaché in Paris, Martinů aided a number of
Czech artists who tried to find refuge in France, but the approaching Nazi
occupation forced him to become a refugee himself. In 1940, the couple left
Paris for Marseilles, then Lisbon, then New York.
teaching positions at Vermont's Middlebury College and at Tanglewood, the
summer home of the Boston Symphony, but was affl icted by depression,
homesickness, and a lack of English fluency. He never adjusted well to life in
the United States, but it was in this country that his compositional career
really took off , thanks to Koussevitzky, who had left Paris to become music
director of the BSO. One of the most remarkable conductors of the 20th century,
Koussevitzky had a passionate commitment to new music and to encouraging
talent. His foundation commissioned countless compositions and he mentored
Leonard Bernstein among many others. Commissioned by the Koussevitzky
Foundation, Martinů's Symphony No. 1 was premiered by the Boston Symphony in
November 1942. In the audience was the celebrated violinist Mischa Elman who,
at Koussevitzky's 8 9 suggestion, asked Martinů to write a new violin
concerto, which Elman fi rst performed in Boston, December 1943.
encouraged by Koussevitzky, Martinů wrote four more symphonies during the 1940s
and continued his teaching activities, but still felt alienated from American
life. He returned to Europe, though never to Czechoslovakia, and died of cancer
in Switzerland in 1959. His remoteness from the land of his birth, oppressed
first by fascism, then by communism, led him to take some inspiration from
Bohemian folk music. It's a major thread in his compositional fabric, alongside
the many other influences he assimilated into a vigorous, sometimes abrasive,
but always attention-compelling style.
Mischa Elman was an
exuberant and virtuosic violinist. Martinů (a violinist himself) seems to have
understood his new patron practically on fi rst contact and crafted for him an
extroverted work that blends tunefulness, dissonance, and rhythmic complexity into
a meaty romp for both soloist and orchestra. If Martinů was depressed about
being an émigré in a strange land while the world was plunged into a frightful
war, those circumstances seem largely to have been put aside here.
A dramatic opening
statement in the orchestra dies down to let the soloist enter with an athletic
theme that transforms into a more lyrical statement. There's a sense of
dialogue between soloist and orchestra that is constantly disturbed by rhythmic
displacement: accents are not on the first note of the bar. You can see it if
you're looking at the score, but that's not necessary: you can hear it in the
energetic edginess the music acquires as it progresses. The moderate Andante
tempo of the opening shifts to Poco Allegro; the violin quickens the pace and
the orchestra responds to its scurrying arpeggios with a big "tutti" climax.
The rhetorical exchanges continue until a dissonant orchestral chord ushers in
the soloist's first cadenza, which ruminates on all the themes introduced earlier
and further elaborates them. A lyrical passage marked Moderato ends the
The Andante Moderato
middle movement begins with a folklike theme in the orchestra and a gorgeous
solo for the violin, gently supported by the orchestra. The tempo picks up in
the solo part and then slackens again as the orchestra restores the bucolic
opening mood enhanced with rich harmonies. Solo winds usher the violin back
into a short cadenza-like passage that leads to a quiet end.
The Poco Allegro
finale starts out with the soloist leading a village dance. Rapid figurations
and fleeting motives are tossed back and forth between violin and orchestra.
The dance briefly becomes an orchestral march tune, but the soloist turns the
mood back into a dance, with octaves, double-stops, and virtuoso patterns that
exploit the instrument's full range. The orchestra responds with a declamatory
statement dominated by the brasses, then in rondo fashion the violin returns to
prominence with its dance. Martinů provides the soloist with a cadenza that
introduces a touch of melancholy, but sunshine returns as soloist and orchestra
plunge together into a brilliant final celebration of the dance.
To purchase the CD or download this performance, click here.
Cedille Records is the recording label of The Chicago Classical Recording Foundation, a publicly-supported, not-for-profit, organization devoted to promoting the finest musicians, ensembles, and composers in the Chicago area by producing and releasing their efforts on audiophile-quality recordings. The recordings and their promotion are designed to stimulate interest in these performers and composers and bring their artistry to a wider audience. Cedille Records is also dedicated to promoting interest in neglected areas of the classical repertory by presenting masterpieces that have been overlooked by other recording companies.
We at classicalconnect.com believe that classical music is a necessity of life. It is our pleasure to be your virtual concert hall and bring you this performance.
Copyright 2008-2010 Classical Connect, LLC