In 1310, John of Luxembourg married Princess
Eliska Premyslovna thus becoming King of Bohemia in addition
to being Count of Luxembourg. He was known as John the Blind
and his secretary was none other than Guillaume de Machaut.
This disc has been produced to celebrate these links between
the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the Czech Republic.
The disc does not take the obvious route and
link Machaut’s choral music with music by his Czech contemporaries.
Instead a young Czech string group, the Quattro Orchestra has
assembled this programme which mixes more modern Czech and Luxembourg
composers with a small nod in the direction of Machaut.
The orchestra’s name comes from the Quattro Group,
a grouping of contemporary Czech composers (Sylvie Bodorová,
Luboš Fišer, Zdeněk Lukáš and Otmar Mácha) and two of these
are represented on this disc.
The programme opens with Bodorová’s string arrangement
of the Agnus Dei from Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame.
Bodorová does little more than transcribe the vocal parts for
strings. She doesn’t need to do much else, as Machaut’s music
still sounds remarkably modern, especially in its new context.
This is followed by Josef Suk’s Meditation
on the Old Czech Chorale ‘St Wenceslas’. This was written
in the summer of 1914; the manuscript is dated 2 days before
Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia, the signal for the start
of the First World War. The melody Suk chose to base his work
on had been the unofficial Czech national anthem since the 13th
century. The piece starts as a quiet meditation but gradually
darkens in mood, ending with music of surprising toughness.
Otmar Mácha (one of the Quattro composers) seems
to have written in most musical genres. His Sinfonietta da
Camera was written for the Mannheim Chamber Orchestra whose
chief conductor was fellow Czech Jiri Malat. The work is in
three movements, Maestoso, Adagio and Allegro vivace.
Mácha uses quotations from medieval songs and protestant hymns.
The work is attractively lyrical in impulse though its dense
textures and close lines mark it out as different from the work
of Suk, his older contemporary.
Sylvie Bodorová’s Carmina lucemburgiana for
Strings was written for this disc and takes its inspiration
directly from the world of John of Luxembourg and Machaut. She
weaves motifs and techniques from Machaut’s music into an attractive
modern synthesis. The result, despite Bodorová’s modernist credentials,
sounds remarkably like something from Respighi’s Ancient
Airs and Dances. The only jarring note is the use of percussion,
mainly a tambourine, which rather stands out in an unsatisfactory
Marcel Wengler’s Novelette for Saxophone and
Strings marks the Luxembourg section of the disc. Wengler
studied at the Conservatoire in Brussels and worked as assistant
to Henze in Cologne. He is the conductor of the Luxembourg Radio
Symphony Orchestra. Wengler describes the piece as a narration,
a short story with the saxophone taking the role of narrator.
The result is a powerful work and far from the rather light
music that the piece’s title might have suggested. Irvin Venys’s
saxophone plays the striking solo part, hinting at drama and
Rene Mertzig studied at the Conservatoire in
Luxembourg and in Brussels. Since the founding of the Luxembourg
Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1933, he has been its violinist
and répétiteur – that’s over a period of more than forty years.
His Trois Esquisses pour orchestre ŕ cordes was written
in 1955. It is in three movements: Sables mouvants, Floraison
and Escapade. These are landscape depictions – wind-blown
sand-dunes in Normandy, landscape in bloom in the spring and
escape to nature. Though the CD booklet notes refer to the influence
of Rimsky-Korsakov, this suite calls to mind the string writing
of Britten or early Bartók.
The disc closes with the Ite Missa Est
from Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame.
This is an attractive disc and the 2010 anniversary
has meant that the orchestra has a suitable peg on which to
hang its varied programme. The Luxembourg/Czech Republic link
might seem tenuous to us but the string playing is admirable,
the players attack the varied music with a lively tone and give
confident, convincing performances. An unusual and striking