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Vítěslava KAPRÁLOVÁ (1915-1940)

Two Songs Op. 4 (1932) Op. 4 [5.02]
Sparks from ashes Op. 5 (1932-33) [12.20]
January for voice, piano, flute, two violins and cello (1933) [4.25]
Apple from the Lap Op. 10 (1934-36) [8.53]
Forever Op. 12 (1936-37) [7.43]
Waving Farewell Op. 14 (1937) [6.07]
Carol (1937) [0.50]
Christmas Carol (1939) [1.13]
Seconds Op. 18 (1936-39) [13.16]
Sung into the distance Op. 22 (1939) [6.48]
Letter (1940) [2.28]
Dana Burešová (sop)
Timothy Cheek (piano)
Magda Časlavová (flute)

Petr Zdvihal (violin)
Jan Valta (violin)
David Havelík (cello)
rec. 13-20 July 2003, Domovina Studio, Prague. DDD
SUPRAPHON SU3752-2 231 [70.13]

Further Information on Kaprálová:

This disc must contain some of the most purely beautiful music I have heard in a long while. Vitĕslava Kaprálová had a cruelly short life (she died age 25 of tuberculosis) and one is left wondering just what she might have achieved if she had been granted a longer stay. All credit to Supraphon for furnishing us with a beautifully-produced disc of some sensuous gems. This includes an interesting essay by the pianist here (Timothy Cheek) and full texts and multi-lingual translations.

Cheek suggests that Kaprálová’s songs can stand alongside those by Wolf and Debussy and that they achieve ‘a true marriage of music and words’. Certainly Kaprálová shows great sensitivity when it comes to choice of poets, for the very poems themselves are of the highest beauty. It takes a major talent to do poetry that already stands so strongly on its own justice, and that is exactly what Kaprálová achieves.

Pupil of Vítĕslav Novák, Zdenĕk Chalabala, Václav Talich, Charles Munch, Bohuslav Martinů and Nadia Boulanger (quite a roster!), Kaprálová’s music remains individual, despite the occasional nod in the direction of Janáček (heard in some of the piano writing).

The disc presents the songs chronologically, over a mere eight-year span. Right from the first song, ‘Morning’, one is gripped. The melodic line refuses to act as one might expect it to, while being fully sensitised to words and accentuation. The piano part is lovely, free and almost improvised; the autumnal harmonies of the second song, ‘Orphaned’ reflect the beauty of the poem (by R. Bojko). Dana Burešová’s pristine-sounding voice comes across as a breath of fresh air (although taken as a whole it can become a little tiring to listen to).

The set of four songs under the title Sparks from Ashes (on texts by Bohdan Jelínek) seem to breathe a particularly Czech nostalgia. So the first, an evening song, finds Cheek in particular conjuring up a crepuscular atmosphere. The words of the third song, ‘Oh stay yet, my dear girl’, are positively heart-rending; more melancholy informs the final song of the set also. If Burešová can on occasion seems somewhat shrill in tone, she nevertheless brings out the inherent sadness effectively.

There seems too little gap on the disc between the Op. 5 songs and ‘January’ (‘Leden’), a miraculous song for voice, piano, flute, two violins and cello. This, surely, is the highlight of the disc, the delicate scoring, the inconclusive ending and an overall hypnotic element all combining to mesmeric effect. The poem (by Vítězslav Nezval) is a masterpiece in itself – this is surely a realisation of the text sent from Heaven.

It is astonishing to think that Opp. 10 and 12 are the works of a woman still in her early twenties, so assured is the writing. An apple from the lap, Op. 10, centres on impending doom. The pliant, Nature-ridden first song gives way to a tender and intimate lullaby. The final song is the most extrovert of the set and finds Kaprálová using spicy harmonies to illustrate the ‘Spring Fair’.

Timothy Cheek evidently sees Kaprálová’s Op. 12 as a masterpiece. Certainly this set of three songs under the title, Forever, is extremely beautiful; the bare, spare textures of the second, ‘What is my grief’, appealed in particular to this reviewer. But perhaps Op. 14 (‘Waving farewell’) is more of a masterpiece. Hyper-Romantic in its sometimes extrovert piano writing and soaring vocal lines, its fairly extended duration (six minutes) means Kaprálová is able to flex her compositional muscles. Again, Burešová can tend towards the shrill at climaxes, but to compensate she can be unbearably touching within piano.

The witty ‘Koleda’ (Carol) on a folk text is the wittiest piece of the collection, complete with animal impressions and a cheeky, chirpy accompaniment. It is logically paired with a Christmas Carol, where I for one would have difficulty sleeping through the shrill second verse!

Seconds, Op. 18, has a Bartókian simplicity to it and includes a ‘Posthumous Variation’, a piano interlude based on the folksong, ‘Tatíčku starý nás’ (‘Our old daddy’), Janáček-like in the insistence of its inner parts. The final song (‘New Year’s’) is interesting in its use of almost ecstatic harmonies.

If Janáček is a fairly frequent visitor to these works, it is Stravinsky that turns up in the final song of Sung into the Distance, Op. 22, where the piano part turns jagged.

The final offering of this recital is the predominantly resigned, ‘Dopis’ (‘Letter) of 1940, a song written five days after her wedding. The music lights up at the words ‘Pan Bůh’ (‘Lord God’).

The music of Vítĕzslava Kaprálová is well worth investigating and this is as good a place as any to start. The whole enterprise exudes professionalism and dedication.

Colin Clarke



see also review by Rob Barnett

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