Prague can lay strong claim to the accolade of being the world’s
most musical city, both in the richness of its historical inheritance
and the quality of present-day provision. The Komzák family
was a dynasty of musicians that can truly be regarded as Bohemia’s
equivalent of the Strausses in Vienna.
The young Dvorák played in the café orchestra
of Karel Komzák I, which in due course became the basis
of the orchestra of the Provisional Theatre, and later (in 1881)
the National Theatre in Prague. On the evidence of this appealing
disc he passed his talent on to his son, who developed it further.
Christian Pollack and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra have
been notable interpreters of the Viennese waltz and polka repertory,
and they carry their expertise most effectively into this new
yet similar territory. The results are satisfying, proving first
and foremost that the Komzáks deserve wider attention
and that they are worthy of comparison with their more famous
Viennese equivalents. It would have been helpful had this compilation
placed the music of Karel I at the beginning of the sequence
rather than mix it in with that of Karel II, so that the progressions
might more easily have been observed, but in the larger context
that is a tiny caveat.
What is more successfully thought through is the supporting
documentation, which is admirably thorough, with detailed and
well informed notes by John Bladon. Since few purchasers of the
disc will know much if anything about either the composers or
the music, this is an important point.
The programme opens with the most ambitious piece of all, the
eleven-minute long ‘Den blonden Mädchen’, which
develops across its extended span most pleasingly. Full of good
tunes and imaginative orchestral touches, this sets the standard.
This and practically all the other pieces are designated with
their German titles, whereas the Czech originals would have been
more authentic. Anyone who has visited Prague will know that
German remains a language which is reluctantly rather than enthusiastically
accepted, a point that relates not only to the Nazi influence
but also to that of the Austrian Empire of the 19th century.
The musical range is wide and makes for a satisfying sequence,
mixing waltzes, polkas and marches. Komzák II is the more
sophisticated composer, but then he was working in a more sophisticated
musical environment. His links with Vienna were strong, and he
became a firm favourite there. Hearing the music, it is easy
to understand why. In fact his career even took him across the
Atlantic, performing in 1904 at the International Exhibition
in St Louis.
Komzák I wrote less music but he did develop the quality
of musical life in Prague, and in that sense is the more interesting
historical figure. He is represented in this selection by only
three pieces, but in three different genres: polka, waltz and
march. Each of them is expertly compiled, and hearing their assured
line and orchestral confidence it is understandable that the
young Dvorák became a disciple. Try the march entitled
Feldzumeister, which is sheer delight, and directness itself.