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Ivo MALEC (b. 1925)
Epistola (2006)a [45:20]
Arc-en-cello (2003)b [27:20]
Claudia Barainsky (soprano)a; Marjana Lipovšek (mezzo)a; Robin Leggate (tenor)a; Ralf Lukas (bass)a; Choeur Philharmonique Tchèquea, Brno; Ilia Laporev (cello)b;
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Emmanuel Krivine
rec. Philharmonie, Luxembourg, (live) December 2006 (Epistola) and June 2008 (Arc-en-cello)
TIMPANI 1C1153 [72:50]


Experience Classicsonline

Not that long ago I enthusiastically reviewed another Timpani disc devoted to some of Malec's recent orchestral works (Timpani 1C1086). Now comes another one coupling two substantial works: his cello concerto Arc-en-cello (2003) and his large-scale cantata Epistola (2006).

Ivo Malec has always had a real liking for stringed instruments. His output includes an early, now discarded Sonata brevis for cello and piano composed in 1953. Later, however, he composed several important works involving stringed instruments such as Arco-1 (1987 - solo cello), Arco-11 (1975 - eleven solo strings), Lumina (1968 - strings and tape), Arco-22 (1976 - twenty-two solo strings), Lied (1969 - eighteen voices and thirty-nine strings) as well as his three large-scale concertos. The earliest of them Ottava bassa (1984 - double bass and orchestra) has been - and may still be - available on Erato ECD 2292-45521-2 whereas Ottava alta (1995 - violin and orchestra) is available on the aforementioned Timpani disc. His latest concerto is Arc-en-cello. The title is a mild pun on the French word “arc-en-ciel” (“rainbow”) although the music is, to say the least, quite serious indeed. The piece opens with a simple but arresting gesture consisting in a forcefully repeated unison by the soloist, lower strings and brass; but the textures soon expand toward higher registers with increasing speed, although the opening repeated notes still feature prominently as some anchoring point as well as acting as springboard for further developments: a marvellous, iridescent section about halfway through the piece - almost an accompanied cadenza. The music then briefly regains some considerable momentum before reaching another cadenza followed by an appeased, ethereal coda. Ilia Laporev is a formidable musician with impeccable technique and musicality and he obviously has the full measure of the fiendishly taxing solo part in this complex but ultimately rewarding work.

Epistola is a large-scale choral-orchestral cantata for four soloists, chorus and large orchestra, setting parts of a letter written by Marko Marulic (1450 - 1524) to the pope Adrian VI in 1522 at a time when the Ottoman Empire was expanding into the West and was then, so to say, at the gates of Split. In his letter Marulic mentions war and its dreadful aftermath. At the time he discovered Marulic's letter, Malec could not but realise the extraordinary relevance that this age-old text had with the situation in his former country Yugoslavia torn between internal wars and eventually dismantled into a series of more or less independent republics. Nevertheless, though deeply impressed, Malec was not sure whether he would ever set it to music. He thus laid it aside and let it mature, if mature it should. The project was eventually realised ten years later and Epistola was the result. The urgently dramatic orchestral introduction leads to the first entry of the chorus that builds to some Ligeti-like clusters. Marulic's prayer heard immediately after the opening section was originally an appendix at the end of the letter. It will be briefly restated at the very end of the work. In this section, as in several other ones in the course of the work, Malec relies on various vocal techniques from shrieks, shouts, whisperings and chant. The various feelings of anger, anguish, sadness and despair are all vividly conveyed by Malec's rich and wide-ranging orchestral palette - menacing string glissandos, erupting brass and percussion - as well as with varied vocal writing. There are, however, some more reflective moments that keep alternating with the more dramatic ones. A huge climax is reached when Marulic's letter describes how people have been savagely killed by the Ottomans when ransacking their villages. Marulic cannot but deplore that princes rather tend to be divided than united to face the enemy. “They should bear in mind what the Gospel says: every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand”. Malec requests that these words be spoken (in French) by the members of the orchestra, were it only to stress the relevance that these words still hold for our times. Soprano and chorus sing a final plea for peace “et iam pacis amor pectora fida liget” (“and may the love of peace unite loyal hearts”) and the work ends with a short restatement of Marulic's prayer. Malec's Epistola is a magnificent, quite impressive work ultimately carrying a vibrant plea for peace that cannot fail to impress through the sheer power of Malec's endlessly inventive and strongly expressive writing. This is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most gripping works that I have ever heard; and the audience must have felt much the same since it remained remarkably silent during the first performance of the work, which is what we have here. All performers deserve a warm accolade for their commitment throughout this physically and musically exacting work.

In short, this is a superb release and one that vastly repays repeated hearings. It will undoubtedly feature high in my list of Recordings of the Year 2009.

Hubert Culot



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