Douglas Bostock has, most astutely, been carving out
a name in the service of worthwhile but repertoire-peripheral music.
These are good days for such pioneering. In this process Bostock has
had the blessing and support of Peter Olufsen's Danish ClassicO label.
This is the second disc in Bostock's Novak series. The last one (more
orchestral song cycles - again with the wondrous Strakova whose voice
is worth a dozen celebrity sopranos) was released way back in early
1999 and reviewed here.
The disc divides virtually 50:50 between two previously
recorded tone poems and two song cycles recorded for the first time.
The tone poems were recorded in what turned out to be reference versions
by Karel Sejna and the Czech Philharmonic. Issued on LP and then reissued
at least twice over on CD these 1960s Supraphon AAD recordings are not
lightly to be dismissed. Sejna abandons the listener to a greater sensuous
charge aided by a fine orchestra still strong on local flavour rather
than anodyne internationalism. In the Tatras is a superb tone
poem of the highest hills, glorious sun-dazzling renewal and exalted
mystery. Delius's Song of the High Hills and Strauss's Alpine
Symphony are mood-cousins. About the Eternal Longing is based
on a sea-tale of Hans Christian Andersen and is akin to the opulence
and taste of Granville Bantock and the plotline of Hamilton Harty's
With the Wild Geese. The Carlsbad orchestra have been well coached
by Bostock and they vie with the RLPO in Libor Pesek's recording on
Virgin Classics. Neither can quite match Sejna though I did not sense
the torpor that afflicts the Sejna reading of the central part of the
The two song cycles are real rarities. If the Melancholy
Songs has a weakness it is lack of variety or too sustained a mood.
There is a sameness of feeling across the four songs - amazingly consistent
but you need some variety to break the unrelieved downbeat and adoring
tone. These songs are the equivalent of Klimt's women in music. The
Motifs are from near the end of Novak's life when his homeland
fell under Communist rule.
Strakova is perfect, creamy and steady of tone, clear
of diction. She gives the impression of being in surrendered empathy
with the essence of late romanticism. Fortunately the music is free
of the coagulation of Richard Strauss or the neurosis of Mahler.
The Motifs are much more varied in mood than
the Melancholy Songs and show the agèd composer at the
peak of his powers. There is playfulness in the Idyll as well
as a shattered etiolated echo of the Chopin funeral march. Novak's sympathies
are still with the dreamlike ecstasy, of half-closed eyes. The sleep-slow
climax of Carek's The Fields of Home emphasises this for us.
Sketchy notes and no texts.
Not to be missed if you are an aficionado of the late
romantic orchestral song cycle (Bantock, Canteloube, Zemlinsky, Szymanowski,
Marx, Schoeck and Czeslaw Marek) or of great sopranos (Strakova is a
national treasure and it is only the myopia of our Laputan commercialism
that keeps her off the front page of Gramophone and the top line of
The Met, Covent Garden and Glyndebourne).
Watch out for the next issue in this series and hope
that Bostock will soon turn to Novak's two symphonies and Josef Marx's
Naturtrilogie and Eine Herbstsinfonie. For the moment
all concerned should take a well-deserved bow.
DI Music are the UK agents for ClassicO and would be
pleased to handle orders.
They can be contacted at DIMus@aol.com