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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Sylvie BODOROVÁ (b. 1954)
Juda Maccabeus (1999-2002)
Gabriela Beňačková (soprano); Aleš Briscein (tenor); Ivan Kusnjer (baritone); Eva Salzmannová, Otakar Brousek, Pavel Landovský, David Prachař (narrators); Prague Children’s Choir; Prague Philharmonic Choir;
Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vladimír Válek, Stanislav Bogunia (second conductor).
Rec. live, Prague Spring Festival, Cathedral of St Vitus, Prague, May 25th, 2002. DDD
ARCO DIVA UP0065-2 [72’28]

 

A previous disc containing music by Bodorová impressed me greatly, while inspiring my colleague Rob Barnett to nominate it as a Recording of the Month (Arcodiva UP0052-2: Terezin Ghetto Requiem for baritone and string quartet,Concierto de Estio for guitar and string quartet).

The promise that disc showed is confirmed in no uncertain fashion by Bodorová’s oratorio on Judas Maccabeus. It is a remarkable piece, visceral in effect (make no mistake, it will reverberate in your consciousness long after you have heard it), yet with a strong sense of structure that make it suitable for repeated listening.

Bodorová chose texts from the New Czech Ecumenical translation (1985) of the Bible, except for one section in the old Czech of the Kralická Bible and some twentieth-century texts for Judas’ Dream and ‘Orgies on the Temple’.

The ‘story’ concentrates on the Priest Mattathias’s rejection of Hellenized worship and his call on all Jews to rebel – his son, Judas Maccabeus, leads the battle for religious freedom. Bodorová’s work is a varied tapestry of some seventeen sections, powerful in effect (and indeed in its use of effects) yet of sufficient depth to repay repeated listening. There is no doubting that Bodorová knows how to write for a specific occasion – it was commissioned by the Prague Spring International Music Festival and therefore, presumably, with the specific acoustics of St Vitus in mind (try the effective use of echo in the narration that ends the fifth movement, for example).

The opening of the work, with its timpani calls-to-arms, its distorted brass fanfares which use the spatial field to great effect (reminiscent of the framing movements of Janáček’s Sinfonietta) and its anguished harmonies, sets the scene. The final and sudden arrival on a tonal triad is an effective stroke.

Father Mattathias (presumably Ivan Kusnjer, given the voice-range) intones a sequence of wordless melismas before the choir intones the text. This is devotional music in a modernist context which in time takes on a decidedly Stravinskian tinge. The doubling of plainchant line by horns (around 2’35, track 2) is a memorable effect. Prokofiev’s influence can be heard, also – try the seventh movement, a battle scene (‘Antochius dobývá Jerusalém’’ ‘Antochius Conquers Jerusalem’) and the immediately ensuing ‘Oplakávání’ (‘Mourning’) that seem to make overt reference to parallel points in Alexander Nevsky.

It is a measure of Bodorová’s talent that she can refer to so many styles within one work yet nevertheless remain coherent. The unashamedly Romantic strings of the third movement (‘Jeruzalém’) come as something of a shock, but it is in essence part of a rich tapestry, here functioning as a lush background for Aleš Briscein’s plaintive tenor. Possibly the biggest shock comes in the form of the ninth movement, ‘Orgie v chrámu’ (‘Orgies in the Temple’), where ‘Dionsysos’ is chanted as it might be in a football stadium (try substituting ‘Arsenal’ in your imagination – it almost fits), with an accompanying rhythmic (and enthusiastic) clapping more appropriate for a gathering of ‘happy-clappys’. All this set against a repeated and determinedly unsettling shouted question, ‘Kde je náš Bůh?’ (‘Where is our God?’).

It is only in the overtly filmic twelfth movement (‘Cesta odhodlání’; ‘Path of courage’) that Bodorová gives the impression that in being so pictorial she is trying to manipulate the listener’s feelings, rather than make an effective expressive statement in her own right. Even then, the shouts of ‘Zabijte všechny’ (‘Kill all’) make a strong impression.

Bodorová’s Juda Maccabeus is a strong, thought-provoking and important musical statement that deserves, maybe even demands, to be heard.

Colin Clarke

The Complete Arcodiva Catalogue is available from MusicWeb

 



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