masek / martinu - awards

Peter Herbert

Dvorak Society London

If my review seems to be over-gushing in its praise I apologise but after several hearings I can only confirm my initial reaction. This is a simply superb and lavish album, consisting as it does of a book and CD. The book contains the best reproductions I have yet seen of several of Martinů’s own quirky drawings, including the famous “Battle with the Piano” set. There is also a highly amusing strip cartoon of his detailing a ghastly journey home to Polička from Kácov and several more that I cannot recall seeing before. I am given to understand that a standard boxed CD will be issued later without the book but I promise that no true lover of Martinů’s music will want to be without this first issue.

As to the music on the CD itself, with its extraordinary jet black playing surface (the like of which I have not seen before) well, it is well out of the ordinary as well. The very funny, rather jazzy piece placed last on the disk as a “bonus” receives its first ever recording. Written to celebrate a huge victory by Polička’s football team, it contains all that makes Martinů such a lovable, humorous man. (It is not Martinů’s greatest music but that is not why it was written!)

Mr. Mašek writes about his great love of Martinů and his music and how he chose a wide-raging set of works for this recording. This affection radiates from the performances. There is a fluidity, a sinuous dexterity about this playing that carries the utmost conviction as to its serious intent. This goes well above such a term as “musicality” because, along with impeccable precision, there is that innate Czech sense of rhythm, timing and phrasing that sounds so perfectly natural but is born of long, hard work as well as that love of which the performer writes.

What had seemed rather disjointed now sounds like a perfect whole and I wish the composer had written more in the same vein. At the core of the recital lies the Sonata which I suspect has seldom had such an immediately appealing and sensuous performance. Hitherto it has not been among my favourite works but this performance brings with it a whole new dimension.



The CD opens with the Etudes and Polkas which have not been blessed with too many recordings in the past. This luminous performance is most alluring. The Butterflies and Birds of Paradise has long been a favourite of mine and this brings a real sparkle to the garden and collections of Max Švabinský which inspired the music. For “encores” the Album Leaf, Borová and Black Bottom add delightful touches to the album.

With Martinů it is always vital to have cognisance of the whole melodic phrase and to take bar lines as a guide only. This total immersion in Martinů’s melodies is what is so striking about all of these performances. The recordings were made in Berlin in February 2011 but the book does not say what piano was used. Here I think is one extra bonus because the piano itself becomes a major player in all the performances. I enquired with Mr. Mašek and he informs me that it really is a Steinway but it has none of that maker’s metallic skeletal sound: in this recording it comes across as an instrument with great warmth and still with a brilliant action that responds perfectly to Mašek’s fingers.

At 18.5cm square, this album will not fit on a standard CD shelf: quite right, it fully deserves to be in a library! Do not delay in securing a copy because this is gold dust.

Martinů: Etudes and Polkas; Butterflies and Birds of Paradise; Sonata for Piano; Album Leaf ; Borová (moderato); Black Bottom; Victorious March of the R.U.R. Sports Club of Polička
Michal Mašek (piano)
EMI Classics/Morpheus Art 50999 0 269162 6