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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

RECORDING OF THE MONTH

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Sylvie BODOROVÁ (b.1954)
Terezin Ghetto Requiem for baritone and string quartet (1997) [16.11]
Concierto de Estio for guitar and string quartet (1999) [16.01]
Ronald STEVENSON (b.1928)
String Quartet Voces Vagabundae (1989) [29.10]
Nigel Cliffe (bar)
María Isabel Siewers (guitar)
Martinů Quartet
rec. Domovina Sudio, Prague, June 2002, Jan 2003
ARCO DIVA UP 0052-2 131 [62.11]




This is not the first time that recordings of Bodorová's works have been reviewed here. Simon Jenner tackled several Bodorová CDs and was full of praise for her music - always tonal. Arco Diva have made a speciality of championing her so having two more of her works from that company came as no surprise.


The two pieces are patently sincere, deeply moving and subtle. Bodorová demonstrates a simplicity of utterance that bring her close to the souls of Finzi (Introit), Macmillan (Gowdie) and Pärt (Cantus).


The Terezin Requiem refers to the Holocaust with Terezin (or Theresienstadt) being the model 'camp' which Hitler had filmed to show how happily confined the Jews were. Two devotional (not contemplative) movements frame a fast one. The baritone Nigel Cliffe has a meaty voice adept at the sort of hieratic melisma called for by the composer. His line is part-cantor and part-muezzin - a mix of East and West. Cliffe is no bloodless English shadow; listen to his singing in the sneeringly vituperative Dies Irae. The emotional span is from doleful protest to consolatory hymn. The writing for string quartet is gutsy, tender and amber-toned. The viciously fast and rasping middle movement has the Martinůs playing at the edge of their considerable technical range.


The Concerto de Estio dispenses with the voice and has the guitarist as the soloist. The title translates as Summer Concerto. It shares this with Joaquin Rodrigo's violin concerto. Just as with the Terezin work the writing is tonal, staying on the sunny side of Bartók's idiom with effects ranging from high prayerful writing for the violins to percussive effects on the solo instrument’s sound box, to flamenco attack with zigeuner and klezmer touches. After a plangent middle movement there comes a broad and confident cantilena with whispered halflights adding to the atmosphere. At the end the writing for high strings retreats into an extraordinary shredded cordage of notes.


The Stevenson, like the other works here receives its first commercial recording. It is full-blooded with the violins singing with warm intensity and hysteria. The effect is like a 'marriage' between Dvořák, Shostakovich and Schnittke. It is not all burstingly ripe hurly-burly though. Listen to the nostalgic 'whistler in the gloaming' effect towards the end of the first movement which segues attacca into the second. This second movement suggests steel spiders spinning webs. Melodic flames burst and kindle all the time throughout this heartbreakingly lyrical work with its parallels with the Bax First Quartet. Bax has in fact been a special interest of Stevenson who as written a major set of solo piano variations on the ‘love theme’ from the second movement of the Second Symphony. This has been premiered by Matti Raekkalio.


The Stevenson quartet is alive with the plunging romantic gestures of the Nicholas Maw quartets and the work wonderfully brought to life by the Martinůs. Stevenson's universalist articles of faith shine through the finale as Irish jigs toe and heel it in an evocation of the Kerry dancing floors. Here is a slow turning vortex of dance gestures ending in an explosive pizzicato.


Two composers unpredictably but stimulatingly matched; tonal music that has not lost its ability to surprise, delight and warn. My recording of the month.

Rob Barnett

Colin Clarke has also listened to this recording

 

An interesting UK-Czech mix on the enterprising Arco Diva label, this CD juxtaposes two pieces by Sylvie Bodorová (b. 1954) with a string quartet by Ronald Stevenson. The 32 minutes of Bodorová in effect constitute the musical worth of this excellently played recital – the Stevenson pales in comparison.

Sylvie Bodorová (of Slovak Hungarian/Czech parentage) studied at Brno (Janáček Academy), in Prague and with Donatoni at the Academia Chigiana, Sienna. A list of her works can be found at http://arcodiva.savvy.cz/notoviny-en.htm. Bodorová is one of the ‘Quattro’ group of composers formed in 1996 (the other members being Luboš Fišer, Otmar Mácha and Zdenĕk Lukáš). Her haunting Terezín Ghetto Requiem of 1997 (commissioned by the Warwick Festival) is a triumph of the imagination. Referring to actual events – the approximately twenty performances of the Verdi Requiem in 1943-44 at Terezín – Bodorová’s piece uses excerpts from both Jewish and Catholic liturgical texts.

Bodorová’s own account of her visit to Terezín in September 1997 to hear Verdi’s Requiem is reprinted in the booklet. Her stated aim – ‘I want my music to contribute … to the ideal of tolerance and humanity’ – is laudable in the extreme.

The Terezín Ghetto Requiem is scored for baritone and string quartet. Its three movements (Lacrymosa, Dies irae and Libera me) last a total of just over a quarter of an hour in total. The opening Lacrymosa quotes from Verdi’s Requiem and the Jewish prayer Shema Israel. The careful use of widely-spaced chords, the delicate atmosphere and the pure first violin of Lubomír Havlák all contribute to the resultant intense concentration. Nigel Cliffe (a member of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden) declaims to perfection.

The Dies irae text is almost spat out by Cliffe, contrasting with the gentle, hushed ‘Libera me’. Cliffe’s voice is focused as he intones the words on a single note. The repetitions of the word ‘Domine’ at 2’20 in this final movement are imbued with a certain desperation which perhaps could have been even more shattering in effect than Cliffe manages, but nevertheless this is an unforgettable piece.

The Concierto de Estio for guitar and string quartet stands in high contrast to the Requiem. Played by its dedicatee María Isabel Siewers, the music’s initial effect is South American (although Balkan rhythms are there, too). Slower passages, however, hearken back to the Requiem of just two years earlier. A pity there is a bad edit at 3’22 in the first movement.

Bodorová refers to the second movement (‘Plegaria’) as neo-Baroque. Its prayer-like atmosphere stands in high relief to the surrounding rhythmic impetus of the first and last movements, the latter with an exuberant close. The composer’s own claims for this piece do seem rather exaggerated, however. Listening blind, few surely would agree that the finale represents, ‘a tribute to the primeval rhythm of the earth’. Still, one comment of hers has a ring of truth about it – ‘The work calls for humility before nature’ – even if the piece is obviously not of the same level of inspiration as the Requiem.

Ronald Stevenson’s String Quartet, ‘Voces vagabundae’ of 1989 is accorded a performance of the utmost dedication. The title (‘Vagabond Voices’) is in tribute to Sibelius’ ‘Voces intimae’ and also to Janáček’s ‘Intimate Letters’. The first movement, which bears an inscription by Walt Whitman (‘I take to the open road’) is lively but simply does not live up to Bodorová’s inspiration. The most effective parts are those where Bartók makes his presence felt. Of the second and third movements (the second inspired by Scots poet Kenneth White’s ‘The Bird Path’, the third by more Whitman) are given exemplary performances. This music is difficult to perform (some wonderful high harmonics by first violinist Lubomir Havlák stand out) and the Martinů Quartet plays the score for all it is worth. Alas, it remains difficult to be convinced that this score is worth all that much. The dance-obsessed finale (which includes a ‘Strathspey fugue’) includes popular tunes.

The overall impression is that the work is over-long for its materials. Another recent Stevenson release, his 75-minute Passacaglia on DSCH for piano on Divine Art CD25013, seems to confirm his penchant for ‘over-composition’.

Highly recommended for the Bodorová.

Colin Clarke

 

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