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Martinu The Epic of Gilgamesh

Marcela Machotkova soprano

Jiri Zahradnicek tenor

Vaclav Zitek Baritone

Karel Prusa bass

Otakar Brousek - speaker
Prague Philharmonic Choir & Prague Symphony Orchestra/Jiri Belohlavek

Supraphon SU 3918-2
[58 mins 1976]

This is a work which defies categorisation. It falls somewhere between an oratorio and a cantata. There are clear baroque influences in its structure, these are interspersed with sweeping orchestral melody in the tradition of Dvorak and Smetana. Whilst it never strays from a tonal framework, there are passages that mark it definitively as of the mid-20th century. Tension is heightened by skilful repetition of words and musical passages.


The words are drawn from an ancient Babylonian epic, drawing us back to a prehistoric world where gods, men and the animal kingdom held together in the natural order for survival and a fine line marked the balance between life and death.


A narrator anchors the story, and four first class soloists represent Gilgamesh (baritone), the huntsman Enkidu (tenor), father and spirit of the dead Enkidu (bass), and the woman (soprano). It is imbued with a building sense of the inevitable destiny, culminating in the peace and tranquillity at the final acceptance of death. The chorus augment and comment on the action.


They all perform with loving dedication in this classic 1976 recording, which preserves its fresh sound after 30 years.


Serena Fenwick