Fibich’s status as one of the founders of the modern
Czech school has never been entirely secure. Though Jaroslav Jiranek’s
sleeve notes claim him unambiguously the greater affinities of the Leipzig
educated Fibich were arguably those of the German Romantic tradition.
Despite the wealth of Czech epic drama and balladry he set and the still
engrossing Hippodamia trilogy, he preferred, after all, the Germanicised
Zdenko to Zdeňek.
The last volume of his Moods, Impressions and Reminiscences
contains numbers 360-376, played with heroic dedication by Slovak
pianist Marian Lapsansky. The Moods represent broadly Fibich’s generalized
love for his pupil Anezka Schulzova; Impressions, the earliest of the
cycle and dating from 1892-3, is a kind of musical eroticisation of
her body whilst Reminiscences relate more specifically to events and
incidents in their relationship – walks in the street, declarations
of love, diaristic reflections. To this extent then the Impressions
are lyrical, the Reminiscences narrative and Moods a fusion or coalescence
of the two. These specific details were first exposed by Zdeňek
Nejedly in a 1925 book that caused something of an outcry. It’s also
true that Fibich’s annotations and Schulzova’s own notes don’t always
coincide. Clearly elements of imaginative recall and displacements of
time and place were implicit in the creative process.
The cycle as a whole comprises much that is in ternary
form and simple rondos; some structures are grouped together into suites,
others relate rhythmically or melodically or are musically cross-referenced
to other parts of the structure. It has a vast range and a broadly Schumannesque
impress. Elsewhere John Tyrrell has argued for a bridge of development
toward, and links with, Suk and Novák.
The pieces played here are as lilting, affectionate,
pensive and joyful as one would expect. Most are less than three minutes
in length; only towards the end of this set of seventeen is there a
deeper note struck, with a five minute Largo succeeded immediately by
a nearly nine minute Funeral March – the psychological implications
are, I suppose, obvious, even though the huge cycle recovers to end
in a mood of geniality with three crisp and affectionate movements and
a concluding Allegretto. Jaroslav Jiranek hears a joke in 361, an allegro
scherzando, whereas I hear a sturdy, noble tune amid the scherzando
passages. The Andantino (363) is played with a hesitant and stuttering
direction by Lapsansky whilst the decisively "pointing" left
hand chords act resolutely to drive the music to its now confident conclusion.
Fibich was adept at employing dance rhythms and there’s a delightful
Quasi Polka to sweep the music onwards and to contrast with the immediately
following Moderato – which is a dance with alternate bars with a hobble
toed air of strong and weak accents.
Similarly the density of construction is confirmed
by the intimate, languorous love song (367) followed by the piece popularly
known as The Storm on Lake Atter. This is a fractious and accent
straining passage with its suggestion of heavily falling rain and followed,
in its turn, by an Andante con moto depicting the calm after the storm.
This is further lightened by a delicious and gracious movement – seldom
was the direction grazioso less needed since Fibich seemingly
embedded grace in the notes themselves. The softening tone was in a
sense a chimera because Fibich now darkens the cycle still deeper with
an adagio. This utilises a kind of ground bass to create an atmosphere
both elliptical and elusive. Its inwardness leads to the long Funeral
march, itself internally contrasted to the March in (357) and full of
powerful chording and nobility – not sentimentality – of utterance.
And so the huge cycle lightens once again to conclude in freshness and
immediacy and lyric innocence.
Lapsansky was recorded in the Martinů
Hall of the Liechtenstein Palace in Prague. Supraphon’s engineers have
ensured that he has a warm halo of support around the piano, allowing
him to bask in Fibich’s harmonies. The result is entirely sympathetic
and his playing is alive both to the elegance and the rhythmic
élan of the writing. He is a most welcome guide to the compulsive
autobiography of Fibich’s last decade.