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Carmina Luxembourgiana
Guillaume DE MACHAUT (1300 – 1377) arr. Sylvie BODOROVÁ (b. 1954) Messe de Notre Dame: Agnus Dei [4.00]
Josef SUK (1874 – 1935) Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale ‘St. Wenceslas’, Op. 35a (1914) [6.25]
Otmar MÁCHA (1922 – 2006) Sinfonietta da Camera (1992-93) [18.53]
Sylvie BODOROVÁ (b. 1954) Carmina lucemburiana for Strings (2008-09) [15.08]
Marcel WENGLER (b. 1946) Novelette for alto Saxophone and Strings (1991) [11.54]
Rene MERTZIG (1911 – 1986) Trois Esquisse pour orchestra ŕ cordes (1955) [12.34]
Guillaume DE MACHAUT (1300 – 1377) arr. Sylvie BODOROVÁ (b. 1954) Messe de Notre Dame: Ite Missa Est [1.06]
Irvin Venys (saxophone); Marketa Mazourova (percussion)
Quattro Orchestra/Marek Stilec
rec. Domovina Studio Prague and Chapel of Bohemian Brethren, Prague, January 2009
ARCO DIVA UP0113-2 131 [70.33]

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In 1310, John of Luxembourg married Princess Eliska Premyslovna thus becoming King of Bohemia in addition to being Count of Luxembourg. He was known as John the Blind and his secretary was none other than Guillaume de Machaut. This disc has been produced to celebrate these links between the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the Czech Republic.

The disc does not take the obvious route and link Machaut’s choral music with music by his Czech contemporaries. Instead a young Czech string group, the Quattro Orchestra has assembled this programme which mixes more modern Czech and Luxembourg composers with a small nod in the direction of Machaut.

The orchestra’s name comes from the Quattro Group, a grouping of contemporary Czech composers (Sylvie Bodorová, Luboš Fišer, Zdeněk Lukáš and Otmar Mácha) and two of these are represented on this disc.

The programme opens with Bodorová’s string arrangement of the Agnus Dei from Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame. Bodorová does little more than transcribe the vocal parts for strings. She doesn’t need to do much else, as Machaut’s music still sounds remarkably modern, especially in its new context.

This is followed by Josef Suk’s Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale ‘St Wenceslas’. This was written in the summer of 1914; the manuscript is dated 2 days before Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia, the signal for the start of the First World War. The melody Suk chose to base his work on had been the unofficial Czech national anthem since the 13th century. The piece starts as a quiet meditation but gradually darkens in mood, ending with music of surprising toughness.

Otmar Mácha (one of the Quattro composers) seems to have written in most musical genres. His Sinfonietta da Camera was written for the Mannheim Chamber Orchestra whose chief conductor was fellow Czech Jiri Malat. The work is in three movements, Maestoso, Adagio and Allegro vivace. Mácha uses quotations from medieval songs and protestant hymns. The work is attractively lyrical in impulse though its dense textures and close lines mark it out as different from the work of Suk, his older contemporary.

Sylvie Bodorová’s Carmina lucemburgiana for Strings was written for this disc and takes its inspiration directly from the world of John of Luxembourg and Machaut. She weaves motifs and techniques from Machaut’s music into an attractive modern synthesis. The result, despite Bodorová’s modernist credentials, sounds remarkably like something from Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances. The only jarring note is the use of percussion, mainly a tambourine, which rather stands out in an unsatisfactory manner.

Marcel Wengler’s Novelette for Saxophone and Strings marks the Luxembourg section of the disc. Wengler studied at the Conservatoire in Brussels and worked as assistant to Henze in Cologne. He is the conductor of the Luxembourg Radio Symphony Orchestra. Wengler describes the piece as a narration, a short story with the saxophone taking the role of narrator. The result is a powerful work and far from the rather light music that the piece’s title might have suggested. Irvin Venys’s saxophone plays the striking solo part, hinting at drama and sleaziness.

Rene Mertzig studied at the Conservatoire in Luxembourg and in Brussels. Since the founding of the Luxembourg Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1933, he has been its violinist and répétiteur – that’s over a period of more than forty years. His Trois Esquisses pour orchestre ŕ cordes was written in 1955. It is in three movements: Sables mouvants, Floraison and Escapade. These are landscape depictions – wind-blown sand-dunes in Normandy, landscape in bloom in the spring and escape to nature. Though the CD booklet notes refer to the influence of Rimsky-Korsakov, this suite calls to mind the string writing of Britten or early Bartók.

The disc closes with the Ite Missa Est from Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame.

This is an attractive disc and the 2010 anniversary has meant that the orchestra has a suitable peg on which to hang its varied programme. The Luxembourg/Czech Republic link might seem tenuous to us but the string playing is admirable, the players attack the varied music with a lively tone and give confident, convincing performances. An unusual and striking disc.
 
Robert Hugill
 

 


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