Frank Martin: Triptychon (ECM New Series 2015)


Frank Martin

Muriel Cantoreggi violin
Juliane Banse soprano
German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Christoph Poppen conductor
Recorded February and June 2006, Funkhaus Halberg, Saarbrücken
Engineers: Markus Brändle and Ralf Schnellbach
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

The inexplicably neglected Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974) is given just attention in this powerful collection of three works. The music is decidedly scriptural, but speaks to listeners of all backgrounds with a depth that is as genuine as it is tonal. Martin was a composer who, like Hindemith and Bloch, had a deep respect for the viola and its many timbral possibilities. It is the instrument through which I first encountered him. How enchanting, then, to hear the soulfulness of his violin writing, which under the sure bow of Muriel Cantoreggi finds itself renewed in life divine. Her contributions to Polyptyque (1973, for violin and two string orchestras) in particular lend themselves seamlessly to the composer’s well-intentioned spaces. Each of the work’s six images explores La Maesta, a 14th-century altarpiece by Duccio di Buoninsegna, in exquisite detail. The utter sense of delicacy as Martin unravels a regretful world built on a foundation of innocence is arresting across faiths. As a whole, these facets are not so much a mosaic as they are a tetrahedron, connected at all edges by their refraction of light, material, and form.

Similarly, the Maria–Triptychon (1967/8) for soprano, violin and orchestra is an unfolding partition. The violin acts as central body that anchors the outer wings, patterned in the poetry of an Ave Maria, Magnificat, and Stabat Mater. The image, one might think, would be incomplete without those wings fully spread, but here they quiver only slightly, angling the perspective of the same images in an illusion of deformity.

Last is Passacaille (1944/1962), an orchestral jewel drawing from its winds a narrative of modest yet far-reaching proportions.

This is music that tickles our spiritual feet, sending light through our laughter into a realm where voices live of their own accord.

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