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Zdeněk LUKÁŠ (b.1928)
Concerto for viola and orchestra Op.185 (1983) [23:50]
Divertimento for violin and viola Op.96 (1973) [13:40]
Meditation for viola and piano Op.116 (1975) [9:15]
Jiří JAROCH (1920-1986)
Fantasy for viola and orchestra (1966) [13:52]
Karel Špelina (viola), Antonín Novák (violin),
Josef Hála (piano)
Plzeň Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vít Micka (Concerto), Bohumír Liška (Fantasy)
rec. Czech Radio Plzeň February 1985 (Concerto), Czech Radio Prague April 1978 (Divertimento, Meditation); Czech Radio Plzeň October 1974 (Fantasy)
ARCO DIVA UP0090-2 131 [62:56]

These are not new performances. They were recorded for Czech Radio in Prague and Plzeň between 1974 and 1985 and are now being made available through Arco Diva. As violist Karel Špelina relates in a brief booklet introduction the disc celebrates a collaboration of over forty years’s standing between himself and Zdeněk Lukáš. Both Lukáš and the other composer here, Jiři Jaroch, were erstwhile violists and friends and Špelina has done much to further their music for his instrument. 
The biggest work here is Lukáš’s Concerto written in 1983 and taped two years later. Appropriately it’s performed by the Plzeň Radio Symphony Orchestra, of which Špelina – born in the city – had been a member between 1962 and 1970. By the time he came to broadcast the concert he was violist in the Czech Philharmonic – latterly he was their august principal. It’s a beautiful work and one of which I’ve grown inordinately fond. Essentially modal it sports a second subject of folkloric intensity and flecks of Janáček – in essence a reminiscence, it seems to me, of the viola statements from his Second Quartet From My Life. The brass fanfares are also subtly reflective of the less pressing moments of the Sinfonietta. But above all Lukáš has the courage to be himself – an inheritance derived from his adviser Kabeláč and also the result of his absorption of folk models. Such models are thoroughly assimilated so that if, for example, you respond to Martinů you may also find that the more charged and energised moments here wear his inheritance lightly.
The very characteristic wind writing that opens the lovely central movement has an almost Dvořákian warmth; cyclic elements are generated by those brass themes and those Martinů-like cadences. Here Lukáš seems to embrace the beauty and lyrical introspection – also the more vibrant passages and contours – of the corresponding slow movement of the Dvořák Cello Concerto. A percussive tattoo starts the finale but that brass figure returns to divert one to more clement and lyric waters. The writing becomes interior, introspective, wistful and irresistibly warm before a brisk and sprightly end. This is a tremendously generous, well-crafted and lyrical work, splendidly realised by Špelina and the Plzeň forces under Vít Micka.
The Divertimento teams the violist with Antonín Novák, and that’s a sure marker of elevated violin playing. These deft and contrastive miniatures are constantly alive and finely textured. Whether entwining or providing repetitious tags for the companion instrument to vault over, these colourful and subtle pieces provide ceaseless pleasure. Note in particular the dynamic variations and the ever-shifting patterns. The Meditation for viola and piano was written in 1975. It’s cast in two parts – the first is reflective, slow, with the piano’s repetitious lines providing a base for the viola’s more active lyricism. The fast section is finely judged and excitingly realised by these two practised exponents - Josef Hála is the pianist - before a return to the more meditative opening material.
Jiři Jaroch’s Fantasy is the earliest of all the works here. Rather like Hindemith he dispensed with the orchestral violins and violas. The sound world is therefore correspondingly more austere and brass-orientated but the viola’s role as contemplative mediator is not absolute. There are plenty of moments of tensile energy and gritty power as well. The precision of the scoring is remarkable and Jaroch doesn’t neglect lyricism – only his is more troubled and complex.
Arco Diva has done well to acquire these tapes. The triple salute to two composers and violist has been realised with character and imagination. And if you respond to Lukáš’s Music for Harp and Strings (see review), I know you will love his Viola Concerto.
Jonathan Woolf

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