Album

Czech Philharmonic, Manfred Honeck

Martinů: The Epic of Gilgamesh

Catalogue Number: SU 4225-2
Published: 20th October 2017
Genre: Vocal
Format: 1 CD
This album has received following awards:
  • Disc of the Week, BBC Radio 3 (2017)
  • Album of the Week, Sunday Times (2017)
  • Albums of the Year, Sunday Times (2017)
  • Diapason d'Or, Diapason Magazine (2018)
Bohuslav Martinů - The Epic of Gilgamesh, H 351 (1955)
Oratorio for soloists, narrator, mixed chorus and orchestra, to Bohuslav Martinů's libretto based on Reginald Campbell Thompson's English translation

Lucy Crowe - soprano, Andrew Staples - tenor, Derek Welton - baritone, Jan Martiník - bass, Simon Callow - narrator, Prague Philharmonic Choir / Lukáš Vasilek, Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Manfred Honeck

"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 Martinů 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 Martinů'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 Martinů's work with an exceptional emotionality.

The Epic of Gilgamesh sung in the original English version on an engrossing premiere recording, conducted by Manfred Honeck.

Reviews

“This live recording of a Prague concert last January is apparently the work’s first in the original English that Martinů set, and benefits enormously from a strong cast of native speakers (including soprano Lucy Crowe and tenor Andrew Staples). The confident chorus and vibrant orchestra are conducted by Manfred Honeck, and Simon Callow provides actorly narration.”
The Guardian, November 2017

“Taken from a live Prague concert in January this year, this recording is the first performed in its original English text, and the result is so uplifting that one wonders at the work’s neglect in the Anglophone world. (…) The soloists — especially Lucy Crowe’s radiant soprano and Derek Welton’s youthful “Wagnerian” bass — are excellent, while Honeck’s fervent belief in the work is evident in the thrilling choral singing and orchestral playing he elicits from his epic forces. A discovery.”
The Sunday Times, November 2017

“The Epic of Gilgamesch – dieser Zwitter aus Kantate und Oratorium von Bohuslav Martinů begeistert auf ganzer Linie. (…) Manfred Honeck am Pult der Tschechischen Philharmonie zelebriert Martinůs Musik mit großer Würde und Intensität, aber ganz ohne übertriebenes Pathos.”
WDR, November 2017

“Manfred Honeck’s account of Martinů’s The Epic of Gilgamesh is colourful and dynamic. The richness of the score is displayed without a hint of pathos or false solemnity. The soloists are all really good, as is the orchestra, but the highest praise must be given to the Prague Philharmonic Choir. A great recording of a great work!”
Pizzicato, December 2017

“Musically, the score is recognisably Martinů’s, minus that overt joie de vivre but plus a sprinkling of the apocalyptic… We get all the score’s churn and urgency, and tender luminosity too… Of the soloists, Derek Welton makes the most impact, perhaps because of the music he is given… Callow is a galvanising narrator.”
Gramophone, December 2017

“Sous la baguette de Manfred Honeck, connu notamment comme défenseur de Walter Braunfels, cette œuvre hybride – qui a d’ailleurs parfois été présentée comme un spectacle scénique – brille de tous ses feux, grâce aux contributions superlatives de l’Orchestre philharmonique tchèque et du Chœur philharmonique de Prague. Le résultat est d’autant plus admirable qu’il s’agit d’une captation en direct.”
Forum Opera, January 2018

“Der Live-Mitschnitt eines Konzerts mit dem Prager Philharmonischen Chor und der Tschechischen Philharmonie ist in jeder Beziehung überwältigend.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, January 2018

“Add to that love music, a brief fight, bleakness offset by brief transendence in the central sequence, and the supreme mystery of the final dialogue, and all life is here in compressed mastery. Idiomatically conducted by Manfred Honeck and vividly recorded live in Prague's Rudol­finum, this is the definitive performance of a 20th-century choral masterpiece.”
BBC Music Magazine, February 2018

“Sur le devant de la scène, le rendu du texte par les solistes force le respect, tout comme la prestation du charismatique Simon Callow, narrateur de luxe. Last but not least, l´interaction est parfaite avec les forces chorales préparées au laser par Lukáš Vasilek. Les voix praguoises font certes trembler les murs lorsqu´elles tonnent.Grâce à une fascinant joue de mis au point dynamique, elles peuvent également tamiser l´éclairage, se fondre dans une ligne hypnotique, ou diverger pour obtenir des effets kaléidoscopiques.”
Diapason, February 2018

“The Czech Philharmonic plays with complete authority, and Manfred Honeck brings his typical thoughtfulness to repertory beyond the late romantics he usually records. The Prague Philharmonic Choir perform as the real star of this recording, captured in first rank engineering. The four soloists are all fine, with Jan Martiník’s re­sounding bass making the greatest impression.”
MusicWeb International, March 2018

“The Prague Philharmonic Choir led by Lukáš Vasilek acted as a collective support for the recording. With all due respect to their high artistic standard, they gave an extraordinary performance on this occasion, currently without competition. And we must also resort to superlatives when discussing the Czech Philharmonic: it spent years soaking up Martinů’s music under Bělohlávek’s di­rection, and on this hour-long disc, they present it with a technical and idiomatically confi dent self-evidence, which Manfred Honeck was then able to lean on. You must hear this recording before it starts winning Supraphon prize after prize.”
Czech Music Quarterly, March 2018

“Les interprètes se distinguent par un prononciation, claire et articulée, qui se double d'une théâtralité sobre, facilitant ainsi la compréhension de l'intrigue, que se soit le grondement de l'exellent Andrew Staples ou la voix céleste de Lucy Crowe. Les interventions du choeur, magnifique dans leur psalmodies d'outre tombe, sont en revanche difficiles à cerner lorsque la parolle s'enflamme.L'Or­chestre Philharmonique Tchèque, dirigé par Manfred Honeck, laisse une impression plus mitigée.”
Classica, June 2018

Bohuslav Martinů
The Epic of Gilgamesh. Cantata on the Words of the Old-Babylonian Epic for Soloists, Speaker, Mixed Chorus and Orchestra, H. 351
1.
Gilgamesh (Tablets 1, 2) 17:08
2.
The Death of Enkidu Gilgamesh (Tablets 7, 8, 10) 17:13
3.
Invocation (Tablet 12) 16:47