A former violinist turned conductor, Austrian Walter Weller has long championed Bohuslav Martinu's music in general and the Fourth Symphony in particular; he made a radiant recording of the work back in 1980 for EMI with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. This 2008 recording with the National Orchestra of Belgium is even better. Though one might not have guessed a Belgian orchestra would take to Martinu's admittedly individualistic ideas about form and rhythm, here the country's National Orchestra responds to it with alert enthusiasm, a sure sense of style, and considerable virtuosity. But since the Royal Liverpool Orchestra made nearly as fine a recording in 1980, the real difference is nearly 30 more years of experience on the part of the conductor.
Weller, always capable and effective, was still a relative novice to the podium in 1980. By 2008, he had grown into an accomplished and often inspired conductor, and this Martinu disc shows him at his mature best. The Fourth here shines and sparkles, shimmering with emotional intensity in the slow movement and dashing with headlong energy in the fast movements. The Estampes, the composer's last orchestral work, is more formally elusive but no less expressively convincing. And Le Départ, an orchestral interlude meant to evoke a stormy sea journey, is evocative and impressive. As recorded here in vibrant digital sound, this recording is a great addition to Martinu's orchestral discography.