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CD Spotlights, Australia, Exemplary Performances, Martin and Martinů, choral music -pleases.
'... beautiful music, lovingly performed ...'

April 12, 2018

Geoff Pearce

CD Spotlights, Australia
Exemplary Performances
Martin and Martinů
choral music -
'... beautiful music, lovingly performed ...'

This disc contains some breathtaking music by two of my favourite twentieth century composers — Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů. The only piece familiar to me here is Martinů's Romance from the Dandelions.
The first work, Frank Martin's Mass for two four part choirs, was written as early as 1922, but the composer withheld it for forty years, partly because of self criticism, and partly because Martin believed that this work was a personal relationship between himself and God and that his expression of religious feeling was essentially a private affair. I am pleased that he eventually allowed it to be performed, because it is one of the most profoundly beautiful works I have ever heard.
The opening Kyrie reminds one of plainsong. As the movement, unfolds the prayer for the Lord and for Christ to have mercy becomes more intense and a little anguished. A brighter more hopeful section then follows.
The Gloria praises God's greatness, and is quite mystical, building tension and then relaxing it beautifully in a truly satisfying way. To me, the following intricate polyphonic section gives a feeling of heightened ecstasy. Towards the close of the movement, there is a quiet and reflective, almost sorrowful section which reminds us of Jesus' sacrifice for all of us. A livelier, almost jubilant section closes the movement.
The Credo closely follows the words, at times full of light, and at others transcendental. Much of the music is very intimate, but there are considerable mood changes depending on the text.
The Sanctus starts quietly and gradually grows in strength, complexity and ecstasy, climaxing at the 'Hosanna in Excelsis' and then moving directly into the 'Benedictus'. At first this starts quietly and then builds quite quickly. The ecstatic mood remains right until the end of this movement.
For me, the Agnus Dei is the greatest movement in this work. One choir sings the foundation whilst the other sings the melodic lines, and they draw together at the end. There is a calmness in this music which unwinds the listener from the pure ecstasy of the previous two movements. The 'Dona Nobis Pacem' which ends this movement and the mass is very emotionally relaxing and satisfying.
Martinů's 'Four Songs of the Virgin Mary' were written in 1934.
The first, 'The Annunciation', reminds one of being in a small church, with Mary receiving the message of God with some confusion and later acceptance.
In the second song, Mary dreams that she is in paradise, but in the third, 'Our Lady's Breakfast', the mood is rather lighter, with baby Jesus helping his mother catch fish for breakfast.
The last song, 'The Virgin Mary's Picture', tells how the 'Black Madonna' icon, which hangs in the Polish town of Czstochowa, is based on the Virgin Mary's face. It can bring about miracles, but not always of a benign nature, such as turning a highwayman to stone when he tries to destroy the picture.
Songs of Ariel is a later work of Frank Martin, composed in 1950, and his only other a cappella work. They set three songs from Shakespeare's The Tempest sung by Ariel, and two additional songs drawn from some of Ariel's text.
'Come unto these yellow sands' is mystical, mysterious and a little restless. In 'Full fathom five' a baritone soloist emerges from the texture. One senses the ocean depths, the gentle lapping of the waves and the ringing of bells.
In the bright and cheerful 'Before you can say "come and go"', Ariel tells how swiftly he obeys his master.
Ariel casts a spell on three of Prospero's enemies in 'You are three men of sin'. There is a powerful alto solo, and the choral writing here is quite virtuosic and at times dramatic.
'Where the bee sucks', the last song, very short, is full of florid writing in the upper voices. Ariel says that he is so tiny that he can hide in a cowslip.
Finally, Martinů's Romance from the Dandelions tells the story of a young lovesick girl awaiting her absent soldier boyfriend, who had been sent off to war. A setting of a poem sent to Martinů by a poet friend, Miloslav Bures, it is one of a set of four cantatas that went under the title Here Is My Home. The narration is carried out by the soprano and tenor soloists, and the choir sings wordless interludes, and at times, with finger tapping, simulates the sound of a drum. On this recording a real military drum is used. This beautiful work, filled with longing and wistfulness at times, reflecting Martinů's homesickness, was written in the last few years of the composer's life, when he was living in exile in Switzerland. There is real restraint here, and the music is quite surreal. The purity of the soprano soloist, Klaudia Kinon, helps to beautify this lovely work.
The performances of these works are exemplary, and the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, the soloists drawn from the ensemble and Marcus Creed's polished direction all go together to make this an outstanding musical experience. This beautiful music, lovingly performed, should please even the most jaded listener. Copyright © 13 April 2018 Geoff Pearce, Sydney, Australia

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