Sad to say, I really didn't know Martinu's music until a concert at the Cincinnati SO last month, where they took his marvelous Frescoes for an outing. I was riveted from the first movement to the last, and immediately set out to discover more of his work. I started here, with this marvelous collection of symphonies, each one unique, masterfully orchestrated, and impossible to forget even after a first listening. Kuchar and the Ukraine Orchestra have performed much neglected repertoire on Naxos over the years, from Prokofiev's symphonies to Ippolitov-Ivanov's colorful suites. Martinu's music is a much more formidible challenge, since there's so much going on here, and a second-rate orchestra cannot make this music work. It would simply dissolve into a formless mush of music and color. Kuchar has a keen eye on the development of each symphony, allowing even the novice listener to trace the journey through a succession of moods and landscapes.
The two symphonies form a nice contrast, since the Third is more tempesutous, with a rhythmic piano providing Stravinsky-ish percussion throughout. The Fifth, though volatile at times, is more lyrical and calm, with an expansive, glorious finale. But most of all, I'm surprised how "first rate" Martinu's voice is. There's no filler here, no tedious passages of bombast or hackenyed melodies; to me, it all works, and works so well I can't understand why his music isn't played as much as Prokofiev or Shostakovich. He's certainly less dour than the latter gentleman (if a touch less profound).
Once again, it pays to buy Naxos. It's a great way to dip your toe into uncharted waters, though I rarely find the Naxos recordings a mere introduction--they typically remain my first or second choice. I imagine this will be the case with Martinu's Third and Fifth symphonies. Highly recommended if you enjoy Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Stravisky, Respighi, Dvorak, Bax, Walton, or Vaughan-Williams.