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Work of the Week: Bohuslav Martinů  – Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1

On 17 & 18 December, Bohuslav Martinů’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1 will be performed by Alban Gerhardt and the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich conducted by Krysztof Urbański at the Musikverein Vienna. They will repeat the performance on 19 December at the Festspielhaus St. Pölten, Austria.

Martinů’s first Cello Concerto comes from the composer’s neoclassical period beginning in the late 1920s, during which Martinů began to intensely study musical works of the 17th and 18th centuries. The original version of the Cello Concerto from 1930 is scored for cello and chamber orchestra, demonstrating the influence of Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerti Grossi. In 1939 however, Martinů re-orchestrated the concerto for large orchestra, lending the work a more symphonic character. This was most effectively realised in his final revision of 1955, widely acknowledged to be the most popular version of the piece, and the one which the Tonkünstler-Orchester will perform this week.

From Concerto Grosso to Concerto Grande

Compared to other compositions from Martinů’s neoclassical period, the Cello Concerto is freer in form. A colourful Allegro movement and light-footed Finale frame the more expressive central Andante, while modern orchestration and folkloric influences characterize the concerto’s refreshing tonality. The result is a very accessible work – one on which Martinů spent more time than perhaps any other.

The artist is always searching for the meaning of life – his own, and that of mankind – searching for truth. A system of uncertainty has entered our daily life – the pressures of mechanization and uniformity call for protest, and the artist has only one means of expressing this: music.  Bohuslav Martinů

A recording the 1955 version of Martinů’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1 by cellist Sol Gabetta with Krysztof Urbański conducting the Berlin Philharmonic was recently released on Sony Classical. The disc, which also features Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto, would make a perfect Christmas gift for any lover of cello music.