Here’s an unhackneyed
collection of Czech pieces dating from
the 1950s to 1970s.
is for full orchestra not as listed
in the heading and on the disc booklet/case.
There are plentiful important contributions
by the wind players in this work that
saunters and ponders in summer heat.
The whole effect is close to Barber
and Prokofiev touched occasionally with
a pungent neo-classical wand. Sluka’s
Cello Sonata comes after Hurnik’s Pergolesi
Variations where the innocent but robust
little theme is held up to the composer’s
jazzily dissonant refractor. The music
is constantly engaging the mind, iridescent
and spilling irritant pearlescent shrapnel
across the soundstage. The Cello Sonata
is a warmly cocooned neo-romantic piece
in two movements a little redolent of
Bax and Moeran. It is played with ardour
and affection by Polášek and
Bílek ending with a gentle throwaway
pizzicato. The Fischer miniature for
two harps is a winning piece of smilingly
elegiac work - not too sleepy either.
Korte’s Philosophical Dialogues are
in four movements. After the tonal-melodic
pleasures of the Sluka and Fischer there
is more vinegar in this writing with
harmonic rasp adding spice to the reserve
of this dignified piece. Lucký’s
Octet for Strings is heard in a grittily
vivid and very closely recorded live
concert recording freckled with the
odd cough. This work has the abrasive
athleticism of Barshai’s string orchestra
orchestration of the Prokofiev Visions
Fugitives and of Nicholas Maw’s
Life Studies. Then comes a complete
change of stylistic gear with a slice
of music theatre. Berkovec’s Cottage
and a Green is sung with high camp character
by the wonderful Vlasta Burian decorated
with cackling laughter and birdsong.
It reminded me a little of the Naxos-Milken
anthologies of Jewish operetta songs.
A few words about the
composers. Lucký was trained
in Prague, worked as a critic and has
written concertos for piano, cello,
violin a double concerto for violin
and piano, more than 100 film scores
and an opera Midnight Surprise.
Hurnik was born in Silesia which he
fled when the Nazis invaded. He became
a pupil of Vitezslav Novák and
Vilem Kurz. He has written a Symphony
in C and the oratorio Noah.
He garnered a reputation as an exponent
of Debussy and Janáček. Berkovec
was born in Pilsen. He spent some time
in a senior position with Supraphon.
He has also been active as a radio critic
and lecturer. Sluka had plans to study
and work with Auric and Honegger in
Paris but was denied this by political
obstruction. He has been active as a
freelance composer and has held high
office in various Czech music organisations.
Fischer studied at the Prague Conservatoire
and has also held various official positions
in the musical life of the then Czechoslovakia.
Korte’s far from untypical story took
him from concentration camp to communist
prison. His determination to adhere
to non-material values is reflected
in his deeply serious Philosophical
This disc is as you
can see the sixth in the Arco Diva series.
It is packed with good things and discoveries.
It might be criticised for being too
miscellaneous but I was very pleased
to encounter this music - and none of
it is rebarbatively avant-garde.
Such a pity that we
are told almost nothing about these
individual pieces in the booklet. We
are given details of the composers but
some background on the music would have