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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Rhapsody-Concerto for viola and orchestra H337 (1952) [21:10]
Zdeňek LUKÁŠ (b. 1928)

Viola Concerto [25:56]
Carl STAMITZ (1745-1801)

Viola Concerto in D major op. 1 [22:09]
Jitka Hosprová (viola)
Prague Chamber Orchestra
rec. Domovina Studio, Prague, 1-3 Aug 2005. DDD
ARCO DIVA UP 0073-2 131 [69:33]

The Stamitz concerto is seemingly beholden to and sustained by the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante K364. Hosprová’s husky caramel tone is warmly attractive and the pointed elegance of the orchestra’s playing are a delight to hear. The finale looks forward to the display of the early nineteenth century with a dash of folk spirit for good measure. Mozarteans with curiosity need urgently to seek out this recording of a work by this Mannheim-born son of Bohemian émigré Jan Stamitz.

The prolifically productive Zdenek Lukáš was born in Prague and had lessons from Miloslav Kabelac (1908–1979) between 1962 and 1970. His works include six symphonies, operas, oratorios and cantatas and many choral items. His Viola Concerto is flamboyant, shot through with Hispanic display and sudden intimations of tragedy. Iberian contrasts of light and dark are evident throughout. There are many moments of arresting majesty in which a fine melodic underpinning registers memorably. A certain serenity is often transformed in an instant into something thrumming with panic – try the first movement between 5:43-6:45 where in addition Martinů’s ‘voice’ can be heard. That voice also arises in confident modesty at the start of the Cantabile second movement and in the percussion-italicised exuberance of the finale. This is very well worth hearing and instils enthusiastic curiosity about Lukáš’s other works.

The Martinů work here catches the composer in a lyrical flow of subdued colours. It has more of a sense of mood-cohesion than the very mercurial Lukáš. Hosprová and the conductorless orchestra give a fine performance in the mainstream of this multiply recorded work. I compared this version with the Suk-Supraphon (11 1969-2 011) from 1987 and the Imai-Bis (BIS-CD-501). Imai is slowest but not by much at 20:35 but her version is hampered by an unusually dull sound image. That 1990 recording can be compared to Josef Suk’s 1987 session for Supraphon. Both Imai and Suk have the benefits of a full orchestra rather than chamber grouping. Arco Diva make up for this by recording the smaller group very closely. This harvests much detail but is rather over-warm. In fact in relation to the Rhapsody-Concerto alone the Supraphon is to be preferred for its aerated singing tone and for Suk’s dignified keening. The soloist benefits from that extra space permitted by the Supraphon technical team. Suk takes 21:18 to Hosprová’s 21:10. If you like your Martinů with more brightness then Hosprová’s version is for you. The couplings make life pleasantly difficult. The Supraphon sports a logical and generous pairing with the two Martinů violin concertos recorded in 1973 while the Arco Diva has the merit of variety and a mix that adds a baroque concerto with the accessible and very mercurial Lukáš work.

Arco Diva are an admirable company and have chosen well in Ms Hosprová but in an effort to engage the public’s credit cards they do not need to resort to seductive Ofra Harnoy style poses for their artists.

Rob Barnett


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