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Fanfare US 1 "A stunning idea to combine choral music of the Swiss composer Frank Martin and the Czech Bohuslav Martinů on one disc".

March 12, 2018

Colin Clarke

Fanfare US 1
MARTIN Mass for Double Chorus. Songs of Ariel. MARTINŮ Songs of the Virgin, H 235. The Romance of the Dandelions, H 361 — Marcus Creed, cond; Danish Nat Voc Ens with 1Daniel Åberg (military dr) — OUR RECORDINGS SACD 6.220671 (64:13)

A stunning idea to combine choral music of the Swiss composer Frank Martin and the Czech Bohuslav Martinů on one disc. By far the major work is Martin’s Mass for Double Chorus, written in 1922 but withheld (kept secret) for some 40 plus years, its first performance taking place in 1963; the title of the present release is The Secret Mass. The sense of private communion with God, perhaps reflecting Martin’s Calvinism, is pronounced throughout. Martin splits the choir into two (a double choir of two x SATB). This performance by the Danish National Vocal Ensemble is remarkable in its breadth of expression, from the lightness of the “Cum sancto spiritus” in the “Gloria” to the chordal depth of the opening of the “Credo.” The weight of emotion in the “Agnus Dei” is exceptional. The 22 singers of an augmented The Sixteen with Harry Christophers on Coro is an ideal alternative if one seeks an all-Martin disc (the Songs of Ariel are there, too), while fans of Robert Shaw and his Festival Singers will not hesitate over on Telarc (a multi-composer disc entitled Evocation of the Spirit). One should not omit the splendid Chandos SACD conducted by Charles Bruffy, also, which intriguingly couples Martin’s Mass for Double Chorus with music by Mäntyjärvi, Ticheli and Clausen. An embarrassment of riches, perhaps; and who could seriously want it any other way?
The Four Songs of the Virgin Mary by Martinů represent one of ten sets of choral songs; this one dates from 1934 and is in some ways complementary to his church opera The Miracles of the Virgin Mary of the same year. The texts are a mix of the serious and the comic (the infant Jesus helps Mary catch fish for breakfast in the third). The performances here are beautifully managed, not least in the light textures of the final “The Virgin Mary’s Picture,” on the Black Madonna painting held at Czstochowa. An invaluable supplement to this, if one is intent on exploring Martinů’s choral works, is the Supraphon disc of madrigals with the vocal group Martinů Voices under Lucáš Vasilek.
The Songs of Ariel of 1950 is Frank Martin’s only other choral work, apart from the Mass, for a cappella chorus, but they are of course related to his opera based on The Tempest, Der Sturm (1955). Alto Hanna-Maria Strand creates an intense, imposing atmosphere in her solo for “You are three men of sin,” but it is the sheer joy of the end of the final song, “Where the bee sucks, there suck I,” that is remarkable.
Finally, Romance of the Dandelions. This recording uses a military drum instead of an imitation of one via finger-drumming, and convincingly so. The text is by the composer’s childhood friend Miloslav Bureš and is one of four cantatas for choir with various instruments by Martinů. The solo soprano contributions are beautifully taken by Klaudia Kidon, who has impeccable Czech diction. The choir itself provides a fine wordless backdrop to Kidon. The text is a lament for a lover who has gone to war; the yellow dandelions remind his pining sweetheart of gold for rings; eventually the seeds scatter on the wind to make, possibly, a ring for the absent soldier, wherever he is. The Danish performance is fragilely beautiful; however, there seems more depth of emotion, and more truth to Martinů, perhaps, to the Supraphon performance, again conducted by Lucáš Vasilek, this time with the Prague Philharmonic Choir (and with Patrik Lavrinčík providing “drumming on chair”) on a disc of all four cantatas.
None of which is to detract from the excellence of the present release. There is such beauty here, a real celebration of the human voice, the whole splendidly recorded by Mikkel Nymand. Colin Clarke, March 2018