Kenneth Martinson

Martinu: Chamber Music with Viola

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Like other composers of his generation, Bohuslav Martinu wrote works for an incredibly wide assortment of instrumental combinations. This is wonderful news for violists, whose repertoire often receives few contributions from popular composers. Even given Martinu's fondness for the viola (and especially for the violin-viola duo configuration), the total sum of these works clocks in at just over 45 minutes, making for a somewhat short CD. Violist Kenneth Martinson is joined by violinist Felicia Moye for the first two works on the program: Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola and the Duo No. 2 for Violin and Viola. Despite Martinson's desire to put the viola in the forefront for this album, his instrument serves a decidedly subservient role for much of these two works. This is especially regrettable given the quality of Moye's violin playing. Intonation is often intolerably poor, and her playing in general is somewhat sloppy, careless, and overly vertical. The recorded sound quality of the duo does even more to push the viola to the background, making Martinson's extremely fuzzy and indistinct. Things improve slightly for the third and final piece on the program, the Sonata No. 1 for Viola and Piano. Here, it was obviously Martinu's intention to put the viola at the forefront and Martinson is given the opportunity to prove he possesses adequate technical abilities on his instrument. Balance and sound quality are still quite poor, with both instruments sounding quite distant and hazy. Dynamics are restricted to a very narrow range, and Martinson's sound quality becomes strained when he tries to rise above a mezzo forte. Musically, there's nothing truly engaging or captivating in Martinson's playing, and in many passages both he and pianist Christopher Taylor come across as just playing the notes without any intensity or direction.

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