MARTINU:  Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra.  Concerto Grosso for Two Pianos and Chamber Orchestra.  Three Czech Dances.  La Fantaisie.  Impromptu.
Clinton-Narboni Duo/Talich Chamber Orch; Vladimir Válek, cond
ÉLAN 744198-2422 (F) (DDD) TT: 61:24

According to the brochure this as the fourth Élan release of the Clinton-Narboni Duo, whose teaching base is Nebraska U at Lincoln. Of the previous three I know only (and have reviewed) the coupling of Germaine Tallieferre's and Francis Poulenc's between-wars concertos for two pianos and orchestra. But the orchestra was a Parisian student group alas not from the Conservatoire, recorded in a studio as dry as 8-H in Rockefeller Center during Toscanini's NBCSO years. The duo has also recorded unaccompanied two-piano music by the long-lived Taillieferre, and a disc of two-pianos and percussion music featuring still more Tailleferre, plus music by Paul Bowles and Randall Snyder, but starring the Bartók Sonata. Now we have five works by Bohuslav Martinu—seven if you count Three Czech Dances separately—two of which belong to his Paris years (1923-40), the same time Tailleferre and Poulenc were colleagues briefly in"Les Six." Two more were composed in the U.S., including the most substantial piece here, the Concerto commissioned by Luboschutz and Nemenoff in 1943, introduced at Philadelphia with Eugene Ormandy conducting. The music sags briefly after 5:00 in the finale, until Martinu's muse woke from a brief nap and nudged him to wrap it up bracingly.

The Czech Dances were composed in 1949, when he was teaching at Princeton, and introduced by Bartlett and Robertson at the Edinburgh Festival. They are the most pungent music on this disc, and the most invigoratingly played, with a real flair for their 20th-century-Smetana idiom. The 1956 Impromptu is a fillip, less than minute of music for the composer's hosts in Basel, who hoarded it for a decade. But the 1929 La Fantaisie features an acerbic vocabulary that changed when Martinu fled from Nazi-invaded France. An "Americanš style - consistent throughout six symphonies, despite their thematic unevenness - welcomely replaced what he had called „constructivism."

The Concerto Grosso of 1937 for two pianos and chamber orchestra was denied several European premieres because of Nazi victories, before Koussevitzky gave it with the Boston Symphony in 1941. While neither as pungent as the 1943 Concerto nor as grimly muscular as the Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani (written shortly thereafter), it is an agreeable addition to the catalog. Furthermore, it benefits from a professional accompaniment by the decade-old Talich Chamber Orchestra of Prague, founded by Jan, the nephew of conductor Vacláv. Vladimir Válek, a familar and respected figure in the Czech Republic, is the suavest conductor on Élan since Santiago Rodriguez's first recordings with Emil Tabakov, albeit with the provincial Sofia Philharmonic.

The recording produced and edited by Natalia Rodriguez, with Miroslav Mares as engineer, was made in Prague's Martinu Hall, assuring plenty of presence plus clarity of detail. When, though, do we get Santiago before the microphones again—say a collaboration (or several) with José Serebrier and his orchestra at Brno? One can get warm just thinking about the sparks that collaboration could give off.

R.D. (February 2002)