These three concertos date from Martinu˚’s years of exile in the USA and are wonderfully vivacious examples of his mature style. His 18 years in Paris had exposed him to the multitude of 20th-century musical styles which he assimilated into his Czech folk DNA with Stravinskian neo-classicism becoming the dominant strain. He declared his open support of Czech resistance with the marvellous Field Mass of 1939 which made him a moving target in Joseph Goebbels’ gun-sight so when the Wehrmacht rolled into Paris in 1940 he fled through southern France, Spain and Portugal eventually arriving in America in March 1941.
Two years later he wrote the Double Piano Concerto – a bold expression of courage under fire. Already we hear the Martinu˚ we know from the later symphonies – hustle and bustle, sidestepping harmonic shifts and thrilling orchestral sonorities. The slow movement has a touch of Prokofien irony; note the delicious moment when two clarinets slither out from behind the pianos. The finale is a tour de force concluding with optimistic triumph.
His health had declined by the time he wrote the more familiar Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola – he suffered a curious accident which left him partially deaf in one ear – the work is tinged with homesickness; the lovely naive tune of the Molto Adagio evokes an earlier Czech in the New World. However the Double Violin Concerto is a work of ebullient dynamism with nary a hint of the composer’s troubles; the most obviously neo-classical in its concertante juxtapositions yet stays clear of the sewing-machine baroque pastiche of the style’s lesser exponents. The performances are superb with soloists lavishing all the care and attention to their parts as they would to a concerto war-horse. The orchestral contribution is clean and crisp in the modern manner. Pentatone’s engineering is predictably superb. A superb endorsement of three works that deserve a wider audience.