is my second chance to listen to a selection of music by the Czech-born
Giorgio Koukl. For some details see my previous review
of a Gasparo disc. I enjoyed that disc greatly for its discreet
exploration of the composer’s musical inheritance, an admixture
of Franco-Czech influences (Les Six, Martinu) and wider influences
such as Penderecki. The results are commendably fluent and imaginative.
Here we have a largely vocal programme. The notes
mention the name of Dallapiccola in passim and it’s
true that in these settings Koukl’s music does bear some
impression from such sources (Koukl was born in 1953, studied
in Italy and has lived in Switzerland for many years). Tre
Canti Disperati for soprano and piano is a melancholic triptych
setting, one that stretches the vocal resources of the soloist
very high in the first. This also sports a rather hypnotic caged-lion
quality to the piano writing, as well as moments of parlando from
the soprano and a whispered intensity in the final bars. The central
song lightens this concentrated intensity somewhat but the direction
is still desolate until an almost plush chordal romanticism slides
in to create an impression at least of resolution. Insistent and
unrelenting the third has a strong confessional feel to it that
put me in mind of Poulenc, and little things such as the nagging,
tied bass note give an ominous, onerous weight to the music.
Koukl is the soloist in his Quattro Pezzi
per Pianoforte, small and brisk works. These range from vigorous
glowering to Prokofiev and Parisian influences and in the Ostinato
third a pressing impressionism. The final one of the set has great
grandeur and also some nature depiction sounding like rainfall.
His Haiku setting Niponari is once more a study in contrasts
and colour, something of which Koukl is exceptionally proficient.
The first Haiku demonstrates the point in its reflective and allusive
colouration and the second is a March affair – they’re
not separately tracked and you’ll need to pay attention
to follow them. But elsewhere we also find some dramatic, almost
brutal and florid outbursts as well as elliptical settings.
Koukl also sets Dylan Thomas’s Ceremony
After A Fire Raid, a dense memorial to which the composer
responds with unforgiving concentration. The repetition of “a
child” in Among the street may suggest a softening
of approach but it’s illusory. The grave second setting
leads to the suggestion in the piano part of a chorale and the
final poem touches the idea of some kind of consoling. Though
even here the ripples rise to angry agitation.
All of the performances of these works, once
more undated, are fully committed and the Lugano radio studio
provides the recording location. The Italian poems are not translated
into another language, though the Haiku are. Another diverting
and toughly lyrical disc from Koukl.