By Andrew Staples, Czech Philharmonic, Derek Welton, Jan Martinik, Lucy Crowe, Lukas Vasilek, Manfred Honeck, Prague Philharmonic Choir, and Simo Callow. By Bohuslav Martinu. Classical. CD. Supraphon Music Publishing #SU4225-2. Published by Supraphon Music Publishing (NX.SU4225-2).
I have realised that, notwithstanding the immense progress we have attained ... the questions I have come across in the literature of a nation we refer to as primitive still accompany us. They are the questions of friendship, love and death. In the epic of Gilgamesh, we encounter a very acute and almost anxiously distressful yearning to find the answers, which we have been seeking in vain to the present day. The music Martinu created during the last decade of his life demonstrates his penchant for religious and spiritual texts. The idea of setting the epic written 4,500 years ago matured in the composer for 15 years. Although differing boldly from the avant-garde of the 1950s, it is an utterly modern piece, reflecting Martinu's intense interest in Baroque music and the Notre Dame school. The oratorio, premiered on 23 January 1958 in Basel, was a tremendous success. Its performance in Prague in January 2017 by the Czech Philharmonic and a superb international team of soloists, conducted by Manfred Honeck, brought back to life the work's English version, based on Reginald Campbell Thompson's translation. The recording, featuring a unique constellation of performers, renders the spiritually profound aspect of Bohuslav Martinu's work with an exceptional emotionality.