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Karel HUSA (born 1921)
Music for Prague 1968 (1968)a
Ferdinand WEISS (born 1933)

Relazioni variabili (1992)b
Krysztof PENDERECKI (born 1933)

Sinfonietta (1991)c
Alain PERRON (born 1959)

Séquences voilées (1991)b
Nancy VAN DE VATE (born 1930)

Viola Concerto (1990)d
Grigorij Zhislin (viola)d; Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestraa; Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestrabd; Krakow Chamber Playersc; Miloš Macheka, José Maria Florênciobd, Robert Kabarac (conductors)
Recorded: neither dates nor venues given


Karel Husa’s Music for Prague 1968, originally scored for symphonic wind band, was inspired by the events in Prague when Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia and crushed the "Prague Spring" which had brought so many new hopes of democratisation and liberalisation. Husa’s piece is obviously a protest work; and, to make his intent quite clear, Husa based most of the music on the celebrated Hussite war song Ye Warriors of God quoted both by Smetana in Ma Vlast and by Karl Amadeus Hartmann in his Concerto Funèbre. Bells also feature prominently reminding us that Prague is also known as the City of One Hundred Towers. Finally the piece’s main thematic material is based on a motif of three chords. The music communicates directly and forcefully, and no wonder indeed that this work is one of the most performed pieces by Husa.

Ferdinand Weiss, whose name is new to me, completed his Relazioni variabili in 1992. This fine work is an attractive orchestral fantasy, roughly in variation form, in several contrasting and neatly characterised sections. Its subtitle "Choreographic scene for orchestra" obliquely refers to the dance-like character of many of the episodes. Beautifully written and well worth having. I really wonder what his other works sound like.

Québec-born Alain Perron is also a new name to me. His Séquences voilées is a dream-like fantasy, scored for comparatively small forces in which the cor anglais features prominently imparting this fine piece with a beautifully nostalgic tone though the central section is a lively, lightly scored Scherzo.

Nancy Van de Vate, the driving force of the VMM series, is first and foremost a composer of no mean achievement with a number of substantial works to her credit. Her Viola Concerto is a beautifully elegiac piece making the best of the viola’s warmly expressive voice. The expert scoring never obscures the viola’s veiled tone, but nevertheless allows for some more animated, thickly scored sections. This beautiful work can stand comparison with the best viola concertos of the 20th Century, such as Walton’s or Bartók’s, and definitely deserves to be much better known.

Penderecki’s earliest works aroused much curiosity and admiration for their new and bold use of orchestral or instrumental forces, their expressive power and their stunning aural imagination. Some time later, however, after the undisputed success of the St. Luke Passion (possibly one of his greatest achievements ever), Penderecki took a stylistic U-turn disconcerting many of his admirers. His Sinfonietta for Strings is the orchestral version of his String Trio (1990/1); and the origin of the Sinfonietta is made quite clear in the opening section in which the violin, the viola and the cello each have a solo. This is a Neo-classical piece that I found somewhat disappointing: the thematic material is rather bland and unmemorable, and its working-out amounts to aimless note-spinning.

Nevertheless, this is one of the finest VMM releases. Performances and recordings are excellent.

Hubert Culot

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