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Karel KOMZÁK I (1823-1893)
Moldauwellen, Walzer [8.02]
Feldzugmeister, Marsch [3.26]
Rabin Lebéjicer, Polka [3.22]
Karel KOMZÁK II (1850-1905)
Den blonden Mädchen, Walzer [11.18]
Caraffa Marsch [2.31]
Warschauer, Walzer [9.55]
Kaiser Marsch [3.26]
Die Mühle am Bach, Polka française [3.42]
Petite valse [5.32]
Obstructionspolka [3.25]
Sub Rosa, Polka mazurka [4.00]
Maiblümchen, Polka française [4.03]
Dein gedenk’ich, Walzer [10.31]
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Christian Pollack
rec. 6-9 June 2005, Radio Slovak Concert Hall. DDD
MARCO POLO 8.225327 [73.14]

Prague can lay strong claim to the accolade of being the world’s most musical city, both in the richness of its historical inheritance and the quality of present-day provision. The Komzák family was a dynasty of musicians that can truly be regarded as Bohemia’s equivalent of the Strausses in Vienna.

The young Dvorák played in the café orchestra of Karel Komzák I, which in due course became the basis of the orchestra of the Provisional Theatre, and later (in 1881) the National Theatre in Prague. On the evidence of this appealing disc he passed his talent on to his son, who developed it further.

Christian Pollack and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra have been notable interpreters of the Viennese waltz and polka repertory, and they carry their expertise most effectively into this new yet similar territory. The results are satisfying, proving first and foremost that the Komzáks deserve wider attention and that they are worthy of comparison with their more famous Viennese equivalents. It would have been helpful had this compilation placed the music of Karel I at the beginning of the sequence rather than mix it in with that of Karel II, so that the progressions might more easily have been observed, but in the larger context that is a tiny caveat.

What is more successfully thought through is the supporting documentation, which is admirably thorough, with detailed and well informed notes by John Bladon. Since few purchasers of the disc will know much if anything about either the composers or the music, this is an important point.

The programme opens with the most ambitious piece of all, the eleven-minute long ‘Den blonden Mädchen’, which develops across its extended span most pleasingly. Full of good tunes and imaginative orchestral touches, this sets the standard. This and practically all the other pieces are designated with their German titles, whereas the Czech originals would have been more authentic. Anyone who has visited Prague will know that German remains a language which is reluctantly rather than enthusiastically accepted, a point that relates not only to the Nazi influence but also to that of the Austrian Empire of the 19th century.

The musical range is wide and makes for a satisfying sequence, mixing waltzes, polkas and marches. Komzák II is the more sophisticated composer, but then he was working in a more sophisticated musical environment. His links with Vienna were strong, and he became a firm favourite there. Hearing the music, it is easy to understand why. In fact his career even took him across the Atlantic, performing in 1904 at the International Exhibition in St Louis.

Komzák I wrote less music but he did develop the quality of musical life in Prague, and in that sense is the more interesting historical figure. He is represented in this selection by only three pieces, but in three different genres: polka, waltz and march. Each of them is expertly compiled, and hearing their assured line and orchestral confidence it is understandable that the young Dvorák became a disciple. Try the march entitled Feldzumeister, which is sheer delight, and directness itself.

Terry Barfoot



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