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.