This is a rather unknown Martinů disc from Supraphon, featuring lesser-known earlier works (Le Revue de Cuisine is likely the one piece here that listeners will know) which is a most exciting collection of ballet/jazz pieces; two for ensemble and one for full orchestra. All date from 1927, five years before Martinů’s move to Paris. This is one of my favorite early Martinů recordings; it is just overflowing with idiosyncratic beauty and charm-rare material done idiomatically and with an authentic zest.
"Le Raid Merveilleux" is concerned with the tragic failure of two French aviators, Charles Nungesser and François Coli, to fly across the Atlantic on 8 May 1927. Two weeks after the loss of the two fliers Charles Lindbergh succeeded where they had failed. Aviation references appear throughout the work's five movements. In the final segment, 'La Mer', the Morse code 'SOS' figure rings out on the piano rather like the homing signal in Barber's Second Symphony. The score is not at all dry as one might fear given the background, and the jazz influence is virtually undetectable. The outer movements 'Un Oiseau' and 'La Mer' as well as 'Les Cartes' (a gentle canon) are humane and quite beautiful and indeed the mature Martinů personality is very much to the fore in La Mer. I often listen to this score twice, as I do with all three pieces on this release...it's just that good to a Martinů freak like myself!
After not much of a pause we pitch into "La Revue de Cuisine". This is for six instruments and is in ten movements. The ballet music is playful, piquant, energetic and jerky and even carries a folk flavor (try the polka Prologue). Stravinsky (Petrouchka meets Pulcinella in chamber orchestration) is clearly an influence. There is also a strutting absurdist element akin to the Shostakovich First Piano Concerto. The Duel movement (track 11) is marked 'Tempo di Charleston' and that dance is prominent after the first minute or so. 'Oompah' and other popular dance elements flit to and fro through these pages. 'Le Fin du Drame' (track 15) vivaciously recaps the dances of the previous movements. This is the first recording of the complete ballet of La Revue. (Movements from it were famously included on a 1960s Supraphon LP later reissued on CD)
After the stripped-down and spare textures of the first two ballets, "En Tourne!" introduces the uproar of the full orchestra in signature Martinů full flow. There are eight movements with some amazing trumpet playing in the tumult of the first movement. (This is the CD premiere recording of the ballet On tourne!)
Hopefully I will have time for more rare Martinů after work (key word is 'hopefully'!)