C1376. JEAN MARTINON Cond. Chicago Orch.: The Complete Recordings. 10-Sony 88843062752, w.facsimile sleeves & labels, Boxed Set Edition. Specially priced. - 888430627529
“The renowned French conductor Jean Martinon (1910 - 1976) studied with Charles Münch and Albert Roussel and was also a distinguished composer. His performances, in the words of one of his biographers, ‘were distinguished by a concern for translucent orchestral textures, and sustained by a subtle sense of rhythm and phrasing’. In 1963 he was appointed to succeed the legendary Fritz Reiner at the helm of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As one critic recently put it: ‘Reiner was a tough act to follow, and Martinon's preferences for contemporary music couldn't have been more different. Yet there's no question that he maintained the orchestra's exalted performance standards (improving them, in my opinion)’. During Martinon's five-year tenure in Chicago he made nine critically lauded recordings for RCA Victor. Now for the first time ever, they are being issued together in a single Sony Classical box set of 10 partly remastered CDs. The repertoire has a distinctively Gallic emphasis, including suites from Martinon's teacher Roussel's BACCHUS ET ARIANE and Bizet's L'ARLÉSIENNE, Bizet's Symphony, his own Fourth Symphony (‘Altitudes’) - commissioned to mark the CSO's 75th anniversary - and the Seventh Symphony of American composer Peter Mennin, as well as reference recordings of Ravel's RAPSODIE ESPAGNOLE, ALBORADA DEL GRACIOSO, MA MERE L'OYE and DAPHNIS ET CHLOÉ Suites and INTRODUCTION AND ALLEGRO. Reviewing a reissue, BBC Music Magazine praised these ‘wonderfully detailed, expansive and vital performances’, observing that Martinon's ‘characteristic combination of precision, intensity, breadth and rhythmic alertness particularly suits Ravel's wide-spanning forms and sensual sound-palette’. Yet Martinon's tastes were wide-ranging, as even these relatively few Chicago albums amply demonstrate. For example, he recorded the two Weber Clarinet Concertos with soloist Benny Goodman, a coupling (Grand Prix du Disque, 1967) of Frank Martin's Concerto for 7 Wind Instruments and Varèse's ARCANA (‘... the galvanic intensity of a live performance plus a degree of visionary poetry that subsequent accounts have lacked’ - Chicago Tribune), Hindemith's NOBILISSIMA VISIONE, Bartók's MIRACULOUS MANDARIN Suite and a reading of Nielsen's Fourth Symphony still regarded by many critics as a benchmark: ‘This is one of those proverbial desert island discs’, declared ClassicsToday.com. ‘Martinon's swift tempos, underlined at every point by thrilling playing from the Chicago Symphony, make this work truly 'inextinguishable', that timpani battle in the finale offering the last word in clarity combined with explosive energy ... If you are just starting a Nielsen collection, let this disc be your first acquisition’. The orchestra's audiences and some of its musicians, reared on an Austro-German musical diet, were unfortunately perplexed by Martinon's innovative programming, though his resignation in 1968 to return to Europe was probably triggered by a personal vendetta against him by Chicago's powerful leading music critic.
We are fortunate to have this collection to remember his unassailable achievements with the CSO, which also includes a bonus of previously unpublished recordings from the archives and Robert Casadesus playing his own Piano Concerto, with Martinon conducting the French National Radio orchestra in 1969. Every recording in this new set comes from the best source, some newly remastered from the original tapes. The discs are presented in facsimiles of the original LP artwork. An enclosed booklet offers vintage photographs, complete discographical information, plus a new essay.”
- Hans Lick
“In the words of one of his biographers, conductor Jean Martinon's performances ‘were distinguished by a concern for translucent orchestral textures, and sustained by a subtle sense of rhythm and phrasing’. Occasionally, ‘he stressed a poetic inflection at the expense of literal accuracy’.
Martinon's first instrument was the violin; he studied at the Lyons Conservatory (1924-1925), then transferred to the Paris Conservatory, where he won first prize in violin upon his graduation in 1928. He subsequently studied composition, with Albert Roussel, and conducting, with Charles Münch and Roger Desormière. Until the outbreak of World War II, Martinon was primarily a composer. His early substantial works include a Symphoniette for piano, percussion, and strings (1935); Symphony #1 (1936); Concerto giocoso for violin and orchestra (1937); and a wind quintet (1938). At the start of the war he was drafted into the French army. Taken prisoner in 1940, he passed the next two years in a Nazi labor camp. There, he wrote’ Stalag IX’ (Musique d'exil), an orchestral piece incorporating elements of jazz; during his internment, he also composed several religious works, including ’Absolve’, ‘Domine’ for male chorus and orchestra, and ‘Psalm 136’ (Chant des captifs), the latter receiving a composition prize from the city of Paris in 1946.
Upon his release from the Nazi camp, Martinon became conductor of the Bordeaux Symphony Orchestra (from 1943 to 1945) and assistant conductor of the Paris Conservatory Orchestra (from 1944 to 1946), then associate conductor of the London Philharmonic (from 1947 to 1949). He toured as a guest conductor as well, although his U.S. début did not come until 1957, with the Boston Symphony giving the American premiere of his Symphony #2. Although he devoted as much time as he could to composing in the early postwar years -- producing a string quartet (1946), an ‘Irish’ Symphony (1948), the ballet ‘Ambohimang’a (1946), and the opera HÉCUBE (1949-1954) -- he was increasingly occupied with conducting, working with the Concerts Lamoureux (from 1951 to 1957), the Israel Philharmonic (from 1957 to 1959), and Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra (from 1960 to 1966). Martinon resumed his career as a composer around 1960, writing his Violin Concerto #2 (1960) for Henryk Szeryng, his Cello Concerto (1964) for Pierre Fournier, and his Symphony #4 (‘Altitudes’), composed in 1965, for the 75th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony. He acknowledged Prokofiev and Bartók as strong influences on his scores, which meld Expressionism with French Neoclassicism. Martinon continued composing into the 1970s, but he seldom recorded any of his own music, with the notable exceptions of the Second Symphony, ‘Hymne à la vie’ (ORTF, for Barclay Inedits) and Fourth Symphony, ‘Altitudes"’ (Chicago SO, for RCA).
In 1963, he succeeded Fritz Reiner as head of the Chicago Symphony. Martinon's tenure there was difficult. In five seasons, he conducted 60 works by modern European and American composers, and made a number of outstanding LPs for RCA, mostly of bracing twentieth century repertory in audiophile sound. Chicago's conservative music lovers soon sent him packing.
Martinon jumped at the chance to take over the French National Radio Orchestra in 1968; working with this ensemble, he recorded almost the entire standard French repertory for Erato and EMI. His earlier Erato efforts that focused on such secondary but nevertheless interesting figures as Roussel, Pierné, and Dukas, whereas EMI assigned him integral sets of the Saint-Saëns symphonies and the orchestral works of Debussy and Ravel, among other projects. In 1974, he was appointed principal conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague, but he died before that relationship could bear much fruit.”
- James Reel, allmusic.com