Wonderfully Colorful "Elements," Solid "In Terra Pax"
Nicholas A. Deutsch | New York, NY USA | 04/08/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Frank Martin wrote The 4 Elements (1963-4) for a concert celebrating the 80th birthday of Ernest Ansermet, choosing to paint a portrait of the conductor as "master of the orchestra playing iridescently with Debussy or Ravel." Martin's pleasure in exploiting the resources of a large symphony orchestra is evident in the wonderfully varied & subtle colors he obtains as he evokes the feelings experienced in observing the natural phenomena of Earth, Water, Air & Fire. It's immediately appealing music that, like virtually every work by Martin I know, reveals new riches with each hearing. In this performance, conducting, playing & engineering capture the rich sonorities of the score beautifully - one of the best recordings in this valuable Chandos series. (There is also an excellent, less lushly recorded live performance from 1965 by Bernard Haitink & the Concertgebouw Orchestra [Preludio PRL 2147] with a fine version of Martin's Cello Concerto.) In Terra Pax (1944), Martin's great oratorio commissioned for the end of hostilities at the end of World War II, hasn't lacked for recordings: besides Ansermet's landmark 1962 recording (still available on Decca 448 264-2) I know of 4 CD versions, including this one. Martin's setting of Biblical texts, selected & ordered with his usual acuity, still carries profound conviction, both in the dramatic movements, such as the terrifying vision of the Apocalypse & the scenes of rejoicing at the coming of peace (earthly & celestial), & in the deep religious contemplation of Part III, which incorporates sublime settings of the Beatitudes & the Lord's Prayer. This performance has 5 good soloists, a fine chorus & orchestra, yet somehow lacks a crucial measure of inner fire & outer momentum (the overlong pauses between movements don't help). If you want The 4 Elements, you won't be disappointed; if you're after a modern version of In Terra Pax, try the 1990 one on Cascavelle VEL 1014 conducted by Michel Corboz, especially as the coupling is the sole recording (from 1975) of Martin's beautiful final work, the cantata Et la vie l'emporta."