masek / martinu - awards

Czech Music Quarterly Review

Editor's choice

The young musician Michal Mašek is one of the most exciting pianists of his generation and each of his projects bears the hallmark of singularity and high professionalism. This also applies to his latest artistic accomplishment, released by the prestigious EMI label and laconically titled “Mašek / Martinů”, in which Michal Mašek strives to link Martinů’s musical and visual legacies. The slim volume of an attractive “handbook” format features a representative selection of Martinů’s drawings, while the enclosed CD comprises Mašek’s recording of Martinů piano pieces.These compositions are presented within a surprisingly variegated stylistic and genre spectrum.

Mašek begins his recital with a selection of nine numbers from the cycle Etudes and Polkas, today ranking among the most frequently performed and most popular Martinů piano works. With Mašek’s delivery, the individual pieces sound truly bewitching, like dreamy poetic images, and one would be hard pressed indeed to single out one in particular as the most splendid. Perhaps the tender “Christmas” Pastorale? Or the Polka in A with its piquantly pointed syncopation? The subsequent cycle bearing the “Art Nouveau” title Butterflies and Birds of Paradise dates from Martinů’s period of enchantment with Impressionism.

While in the Etudes and Polkas I already admired the beautiful sound of the piano, when listening to the finely opalescent colours of the Butterflies and Birds of Paradise I hadn’t the slightest doubt that Michal Mašek plays a truly superb instrument and is able to bring out its stellar qualities to the full. The apex of the recording, however, can be considered Martinů’s Piano Sonata. Mašek plays it in an extremely inspired manner, applying great imagination, with an amply gradated sound and a lucidly structured form. Following this ideationally and interpretationally challenging work, the pianist serves up four delightful encores. The Album Leaf (1923), the seventh part of the Borová cycle, the jazz-infused Black Bottom, played with evident zest, and, in conclusion, a bonus track and true rarity: the world premiere recording of the Victory March of the R.U.R. Sports Club in Polička, written by Martinů in 1921 in honour of the Polička football team.



The book in which the CD is enclosed will delight Martinů aficionados as much as Mašek’s superb recordings themselves. It not only provides all the relevant information pertaining to the recorded pieces but also, and primarily, approximately three dozen high-quality colour copies of Martinů’s drawings, which present the composer as an adroit and nimble-witted chronicler of various current events.

Design of the book warrants special attention. Such resourceful and refined graphic art is usually the exclusive preserve of deluxe bibliophile publications (by the way, this project of Mašek’s has a bibliophile nature since all the prints are numbered). When browsing through the book, I repeatedly discovered new enlivening and refreshing details, and was really fascinated by what graphic designer was able to conceive with, for instance, a simple red dot (in the colour of the EMI logo), which is a sort of visual “leitmotif” running through the entire project.

In the postscript, Michal Mašek writes that Bohuslav Martinů’s music fascinated him back in his childhood and that the pieces featured on this recording are among those he most cherishes. The project may thus be perceived as the young pianist’s “tribute” to one of the most distinguished Czech music creators. And as such it is definitely one worthy of attention.

Etudes and Polkas, H. 308 (selection); Butterflies and Birds of Paradise, H. 127; Sonata for Piano, H. 350; Album Leaf No. 1, H. 222; Borová, H. 195 (No. 7 Moderato); Black Bottom, H. 165; Victory March of the R.U.R. Sports Club in Polička, H. 129bis

Michal Mašek - piano. Executive Producer: Michal Mašek. Text: Czech, English. Recorded: Feb. 2011, Teldex Studio Berlin. Released: 2011. TT: 65:16. DDD. 1 CD EMI Records / Morpheus Art Catalogue No. 50999 0 269162 6.