Biblical Songs (1894) & Preludes
& Fugues for Organ (c1857)
Fresko for organ in one movement
'O Virtu mia' - Aria concertante
per basso ed organo (Dante-Purgatoria)
Sergej Koptchak (bass) Ales Barta (organ)
Rec. 6th-8th June 2000
& 22nd August 2000
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There is no doubt that Sergej Koptchak is a great bass. In fact he is one
of the finest I have ever heard. He has ample opportunity to display his
abilities. Two works on this CD are devoted to bass and organ. The other
two works are for solo organ.
Antonin Dvorák's Biblical Songs were written in 1894 when the
composer was de-facto head of the New York National Conservatory. They were
composed at the same time as the more famous and popular Cello Concerto.
Dvorak was a Catholic yet unusually, for these Biblical Songs,
he used the Protestant version of the Psalms. He chose to set selected
verses only. They were originally composed with piano accompaniment however
some were later orchestrated. In the present recording we have the benefit
of the organ in St Jilij Church, Prague. There is a great depth to these
settings, and this profundity is emphasised by the relative simplicity of
the writing. This depth is well reflected in this recording. Sergej Koptchak
sings these songs in Czech, however an English translation is provided in
the sleeve notes. The songs are masterpieces of their genre, even if they
are not to everyone's taste.
Sergej Koptchak has had a distinguished career. He has sung opera at the
Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava for twenty-two years. He sang Gremin
in Eugene Onegin at Covent Garden in 1982. Since then he has appeared
in all the major musical centres in the West - including Milan, New York,
Rome, Salzburg and Munich. He specialises in Slovakian music.
The other work, or group of works by Dvorák are his Preludes and
Fugues for Organ. These were unknown to me and I imagine will be relatively
unknown to many listeners. However for those people who need the 'complete
works' it will be a desideratum. When Dvorák studied at the Organ
School in Prague he naturally prepared a number of exercises. Amongst them
were these five preludes, one fughetta and two fugues. Very much in the vein
of Bach they show the young musician as a competent technician. These works
represent the composer's earliest compositions that have survived in manuscript
and as such deserve a hearing. Whether they will find their way into the
regular organist's repertoire is another matter.
The organist is Ales Barta. A quick 'surf' on the Internet reveals him as
one of the leading organists of the Czech Republic. He has a widely ranging
career both at home and around the world. His repertoire is broad based and
includes baroque and modern pieces.
The two remaining items on this CD are both twentieth century works. The
first, Fresko for Organ is an excellent 'prelude-toccata-like' piece
written in 1991 for the 150th anniversary of the birth of
Dvorák. It is a strong, virile piece that has many of the hallmarks
of what is best in modern organ music.
There is nothing here which will offend any but the most conservative of
listeners. A few passages sound as if the organ has developed a cipher, but
I believe it is meant! There are even 'catchy' phrases!
The two works for organ solo were recorded at the Unicov Concert Hall.
The final piece on this CD is once again a duo for organ and bass solo. This
time it is an aria from Dante's purgatory. The sleeve notes describes the
composer, Juraj Beneë
as having a style characterised by 'wit and playfulness.' These adjectives
are evident in this composition and its performance. Once again there is
nothing here which is liable to frighten anyone away from the piece. It is
well written and beautifully performed. The soloist's bass provides an effective
vehicle for Dante's words. A translation of the Italian original would have
helped those of us who are not Dante scholars.
I notice from the record sleeve that Koptchak has also recorded songs by
Rachmaninov and Glinka. These would certainly be worth a hearing.
On the whole an excellent CD with quite an unusual programme. Programme notes
could be a bit more helpful, especially about Filas and
Beneë , who may not be
so well known outside Prague. It would have been useful to have a few notes
about the two organs used, even if a full specification was not given.
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