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Vítĕzslava KAPRÁLOVÁ (1915-1940)
Portrait of the Composer: Military Sinfonietta, Op. 11a (1936) [14’34]. String Quartet, Op. 8b (1935) [19’25]. April Preludes, Op. 13c (1937) [9’30]. Love Carold (1938) [1’20]. Ritornell, Op. 25e (1940) [4’13]. Partita, Op. 20f (1938/9) [19’26]. Waving Farewell, Op. 14g (1937) [5’16].
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)

Love Carold (1937) [0’48].
afgCzech Symphony Orchestra of Brno/František Jílek; bJanáček String Quartet (Bohumil Smejkal, Adolf Sýkora, violins; Jiří Kratochvíl, viola; Karel Krafka, cello); dLenka Škorničková (soprano); gVilém Přibyl (tenor); eIvan Mĕrka (cello); ceJaroslav Smýkal, dJitka Drubílková, fJiří Skovajsa, (pianos).
Rec. acf1991, b1982, e1974, g1975, dStudio Dominova, in April 1998. ADD
STUDIO MATOUŠ MK 0049-2 [75’14]


After the wonderful Supraphon disc of music by Kaprálová , it is a pleasure to report further riches. This time the issuing company is Matous, another Czech label ( ). The presence of some orchestral and concertante music is welcome on a disc that also includes one of her major compositional statements, the excellent String Quartet of 1935.

First, the single movement ‘Military Sinfonietta’, so-called because of the nature of its themes. If Janáček is present in the background of the very opening, he is soon dispelled. This is eminently jolly music, written by a firm compositional hand that guides a fertile imagination. Particularly notable is the transparency of the orchestration (superbly realised here by the Czech Symphony Orchestra).

The String Quartet is, if anything, an even finer piece; in my estimation the best work on the disc. It was inspired by feelings of elation on graduating from her Conservatoire. The very first entry sounds as if it is slightly shortened by an error of editing, but that aside this is a fine recording. The atmosphere here is more intense than in the Military Sinfonietta, achieving almost a Bergian sense of flow (just missing that final feeling of harmonic/motivic freedom so characteristic of Berg). The Lento second movement begins with a cello soliloquy before an ultra-high violin enters. The sorrowful lines are well presented, contrasting with the tripping-along nature of the ‘Vivo’ finale. Contrast is marked here, as in the interior passage around 3’30 and the spiky, more obviously modern passage slightly later on.

The Dubnová preludia (‘April Preludes’) for solo piano are, as the booklet note promises, supremely pianistic. It is the second that seems most filled with hope of Spring, while for the third, the indicator ‘semplice’ is the watchword. The finale is the most spiky, almost in the manner of a Czech Stravinsky. Jaroslav Smýkal plays with laudable textural clarity. Only the recording is really open to adverse criticism here, on the dry side and lacking lower-range depth.

Kaprálová studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Charles Munch, and also became a pupil of Martinů’s. Indeed Martinů was a major influence in her life, so it is appropriate that here we have two settings of František Sušil’s poem, ‘Koleda milostná’ (‘Love Carol’). A pity that text only is given by Matous, but there is no missing the effectiveness of Martinů’s assured and simple response. Lenka Škorničková sings beautifully. Her voice is pure (very little vibrato) and fresh-sounding. Kaprálová’s response to Sušil’s text is spikier and certainly more cheeky.

Ritornell for cello and piano was Kaprálová’s last completed composition. A dry acoustic again does not help matters, but there is no doubting the work’s appeal and no doubting either the technical competence of cellist Ivan Mĕrka.

Neo-classic is the term that springs straight to mind when confronted with the Partita, Op. 20, for ‘string orchestra and piano’. The piano is recorded closely, but mercifully Jiří Skovajsa does not bang. In fact, he has a most appealing staccato. There is a feeling of Bartók about much of the first movement. The hypnotic Andantino is marvellously expressive, contrasting with the acidic harmonies of the witty concluding Presto.

Waving Farewell closes the disc – a more fitting title would be hard to find. This is a 1937 setting for voice and orchestra of a poem by Vitĕzslav Nezval. The tenor soloist, Vilém Přibyl, is unconvincing though. He seems unsure of where the line is going and his voice is forced. The work itself is effective, but some slight reshuffling of tracks would have ensured a more lasting impression for this disc. Nevertheless, this is an essential supplement to the Supraphon disc mentioned above. Do try to search it out.

These are mostly Czech Radio recordings, from Brno. There is a countryman’s dedication that shines through all the performances.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Rob Barnett

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