> EBEN Songs [CT]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,928 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Petr EBEN (b.1929)

Six Love Songs (1951)
The Most Secret Songs (1952)
Loveless Songs (1963)
Six Songs to Verses by Rainer Maria Rilke (1961)
Songs from Tĕöín Country (1952)
Dagmar Pecková (mezzo-soprano) Ivan Kusnjer (baritone)
Petr Eben (piano) Jan Pěruöka (viola)
Recorded at the Domovina Studio, Prague June 27, November 3-4 1996 (The Most Secret Songs and Songs from TěöŪn Country) April 15-17 1999 (Six Love Songs and Loveless Songs) June 16-17 1999 (Six Songs to Verses by Rainer Maria Rilke) DDD
SUPRAPHON SU 3011-2 231 [75:09]


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Lest anyone be in any doubt that Petr Eben is a worthy heir to his fellow countryman Leoö JanŠček, I would suggest that they listen to this wonderful collection of five song cycles, all of them beautiful examples of the highly personal yet intensely Czech qualities of Ebenís music as well as his innate sensitivity to both the poetry he sets (much of it being of personal significance to the composer) and the qualities of the human voice.

Although written over a period of just twelve years the five cycles reflect clearly the composerís journey from the Janáček-imbued language of his earlier works to the melodically and harmonically freer, indeed more adventurous sound world of his mature music.

Of the three earliest cycles the Six Love Songs are perhaps the closest to Janácek in both language and spirit. Eben here uses medieval texts (with the exception of one setting of a poem by Villon) encompassing Czech, German, English, Italian and French and reflecting Ebenís abilities as a multi-linguist. Sung impeccably by Dagmar PeckovŠ the JanŠček influence is perhaps most discernible in the piano writing but the results can be very much Ebenís own (try the opening Kind Night or the fifth song Send Me No Messages). In The Most Secret Songs, for low voice and piano of the following year, Eben turns to lyric verse by a number of poets close to his heart whilst including verse of Eastern origin (Abu Saíid and Saíd-ud-din Hamawi), as well as a brief setting of his own words in the sixth song, Parting. As in all of these cycles one senses a deep feeling of personal association with the texts, heightened by the composerís own sensitive accompaniment to the charismatic singing of Ivan Kusnjer. Kusnjer is equally fine in the Songs from Tĕöín Country of the same year, in which Eben turns to the folk music of northern Moravia, the area of which his wife is a native. These eleven fleeting songs, most of which are well under two minutes in length, are wonderfully characterful, by turns lyrical, haunting (the atmospheric Come Sunday Morning is particularly memorable) and at times boisterously good humoured (Hey, Round about Têöín and the concluding The Girls they Boast). Kusnjer projects himself with strength and an infectious sense of enjoyment.

Of the two later cycles, indeed of all the cycles, it is the 1963 settings of Loveless Songs that stand alone both for the dark intensity of their subject matter and the inspired, wholly appropriate hues of their viola accompaniment, the perfect match for Peckováís rich mezzo-soprano voice. The texts explore the complex emotional world of loveless relationships, whether those locked in long-standing unhappiness or the fleeting feelings of lovelessness that are common to many romantic relationships, resulting in a kind of anti-love song cycle. Ebenís skill in both inter-twining and separating the vocal and viola parts makes for fascinating, if emotionally tense listening, adding to the unusual nature of this most overtly "serious" of the five cycles. Rilke is a poet who has been close to Ebenís heart for many years and it is therefore no surprise that he should turn to the German poetís work, albeit clearly after much thought, evident in the fact that it took until 1961 for him to produce a cycle setting six Rilke poems for middle voice and piano. The language here is more characteristically lyrical than is displayed in the bitterness, even anger of the Loveless Songs, the final song, Premonition, being particularly fine and bringing to mind Frank Martin in the central chordal sequence from 1í05".

Like the music of Frank Martin, Petr Ebenís work has a thoughtful, sometimes spiritual intensity and beauty that places him amongst the most personal and still, I think, underrated composers (in this country at least) of his generation. These song cycles are finely representative of his music and in performances as committed as these, perhaps even definitive given the composerís presence and able accompaniment, it is to be hoped that we will see future recordings demonstrating the wider breadth of his output beyond the realms of the choral and organ music.

Christopher Thomas.


Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.