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Miloslav KABELAC (1908-1979)
Mystery of Time - Passacaglia for Large Orchestra Op. 31 (1953-57) [23.39]
Hamlet Improvisation for Large Orchestra Op. 46 (1962-63) [14.38]
Jan HANUŠ (b.1915)

Symphony Concertante for organ, harp, timpani and strings Op. 31 (1953-54) [22.10]
Jiri Reinerger (organ)
Bedrich Dobrodinsky (harp)
Robert Mach (timpani)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl
rec. Dvorak Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, 22-24 June 1960 (Mystery); 25 Apr 1966 (Hamlet); 29 Dec 1957, 20-21 Jan 1958 (Hanus). ADD
SUPRAPHON SU 3671-2 011 [60.46]

Supraphon lacks nothing in courage. Here in their prestigious Ančerl Gold Edition they choose to place together three works that previously have been coupled with more popular pieces. The received commercial 'logic' is sweetener and pill. Here there is no sweetener. Perhaps the Czech company is relying on what you might call 'collector momentum'. After all won't collectors want to get every one of these Gold Editions and ensure that there is no gap in the numbers?

Of course for explorers of rare repertoire such series offer rich pickings. They will have no compunction about picking up odd discs from the series to populate their shelves with recordings of Pauer, Vycpalek, Dobias and others. Later volumes in this series include the Kabelac Symphony 5 (SU3701-2), Burghauser Seven Reliefs and Dobias Symphony 2 (SU3700-2), Krejci Symphony 2 and Pauer Bassoon Concerto (SU3697-2), Vycpalek Cantata of the Last Things of Man (SU3695-2), Borkovec Piano Concerto 2 (SU3690-2), Vycpalek Czech Requiem and Macha Rychlic Variations (also on the all-Macha collection from Arco Diva). That's about six discs out of the 42 volumes in the Ancerl Gold Edition.

Miloslav Kabelac began composing in the 1930s and his formative experiences during the Nazi occupation and the Soviet regime included the suppression of his works with varying degrees of thoroughness. The Mystery of Time begins with the merest susurration. The effect is rather like the shadowed murmurings of Ives' Unanswered Question. From about 7.00 (and later at 14.53) the music takes on a stronger rhythmic interest sounding Sibelian (though the notes suggest Janáček) rising to brazen piercing brass protests. The chesty and hoarse brass writing at 10.12 hints at familiarity with Suk's Asrael. At the climax at 13.00 and 18.11 the fate motif from Beethoven 5 is alluded to. This is music riven with conflict yet fitfully heroic in character as at the magnificent writing for high pealing trumpets (19.06). A more serene tone is struck by the solo violin in the last few minutes of this impressive piece. The solo line yet manages to avoid undue sweetness. There is something toiling about that solo voice rather than utterly at peace.

Kabelac made time the subject of several of his pieces. Such elitist philosophical obsessions were anathema to the communist state - another reason why his music was officially stigmatised. The work was premiered by the same forces as here on 23 October 1957.

Ten years later Kabelac turned to the Hamlet Improvisation. It was premiered in 1964 by the Prague Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alois Klima (whose Supraphon recording of the Suk War Triptych should be reissued - does anyone out there have the LP?). It was written in Shakespeare's 400th anniversary year. Again the solo voice of the violin can be heard but the context is more challenging than that in The Mystery of Time. The fabric of the piece shows the influence of Messiaen. At times there is also an Egdon Heath chill about it. Moods shift mercurially while questionings and misgivings challenge the listener. It is as if we are granted an insight into Hamlet's disordered mind. This is a troubled piece with a tendency to fragmentation rather than long lines (except in the solo violin) and with inventive patter from the percussion. A softer sentiment enters at 7.38 (Ophelia?) with a soaring insistent theme for the strings. Once again the work is given coherence and logical momentum by the return of the solo violin (underpinned by the bassoon) at the close.

Both Kabelac works avoid serialism and the dodecaphonic method but, especially in the Hamlet work, are happy to grasp dissonance as part of the expressive armoury. Kabelac is not afraid to use repetition and subtle transformation of material to bring us closer to his language.

Jan Hanus won the Dvořák Prize in 1954 for his Symphony Concertante. It was written during the long ascendancy of the socialist cantata exhorting conformity and exulting in the praise of Stalin and his fledglings. However what we find in the Hanus work is a piece with decidedly serene inclinations - quite the opposite of Kabelac. It sounds positively Gallic with shades of the Poulenc Organ Concerto yet not gargantuan Gothic. The confident string writing blends in the style of Dvořák from the Seventh and Eighth symphonies. The harp plays a prominent role throughout acting as an assured orator at every step. It was a brave choice to put the harp up against the organ. Hanus's writing is not desperately original but it is extremely effective within the bounds of Tchaikovsky and Ravel. The fugal finale is similar to the final section of Britten's Young Person's Guide. Although things begin to become structurally ramshackle toward the end it would pair nicely with William Alwyn's Lyra Angelica and I am sure would have appealed to Alwyn. I wonder if he ever heard it. The Hanus is dedicated to Ančerl. Its premiere took place in Brno in 1956 conducted by Otakar Trhlík. Ančerl made this recording in 1957.

The notes are good although I would have liked more biographical background on the composers. Recording quality is at its least plush, though still adequate, in the Hanus.

Rob Barnett


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