Four works of the 1960s by a female Serbian composer. These are
presented by Chandos in faithful if not unblemished analogue.
Her Byzantine Concerto is stony and dissonant with brave rhetoric. It is heavy with dark threat
and stony bell-like carillons. The brass articulate braying
anger. There are silvery and quietly humming textures in the
second movement. The music evades a narrative line but the incidents
are unfailingly imaginative. They mix a quiet yet victorious
confidence which bumps dissonance against seething unruly tonal
flames. It’s like a fusion of the Ravel G major, stone-breaking
Stravinsky and Berg.
Threshold of Dreams
is a cantata in a
fairly avant-garde style. The recording protests a little when
the singers are called on to ascend rapidly to dramatic heights.
In fact the style of singing would have suited Cathy Berberian
or Jane Manning. The line demanded by Maric is a sort of combination
of Roberto Gerhard of the mid-1960s, Ravel, Marek and Szymanowski.
For all its sultriness it remains dissonant. The use of a speaker
recalls for me a similar melodramatic Lorca-based work by Gerhard.
The Ostinato super
thema Octoïcha leads us away from the human voice. It is
a work that is slippery, icy, oblique. The effect is like a
modestly dissonant Nights in the Gardens of Spain but
drenched in moonlight. It manages to be both poetic and anxious.
The Songs of Space
are based on Christian texts of the ancient Bosnian Bogomils.
This is not inspired by Soviet space travel. We are told that
Maric gets to grips with time and death … and space that transcends
time and death. Regrettably the work is in a single 30 minute
track. The effect of the orchestral sections is rather like
the quiet soliloquies of Panufnik and Hovhaness yet with a Bergian
twist. The trumpets deliver a lighthouse oration – more omen
than blessing. The choral contribution recalls Orthodox chant
mixed with the extreme writing in Holst’s Hymn of Jesus.
At 6:16 those angst-ridden trumpets return – a nodal point ushering
in even more stratospheric singing for the female section of
the choir. The string writing and singing become even more passionate
though not losing their devotional sense. This is an exciting
work with rhythmic vitality of an Orff-like potency. Ultimately
though there is to be no blazing climax – only a timeless enigma.
The work ends in a muttered-sung invocation and the iron resonance
of the tam-tam modestly struck and sustained: eternity and mystery.
The booklet’s attention
to detail is magnificent with all words given in French, German,
Cyrillic text and English translation. There are also full and
satisfying notes by Borislav Čičovački. We are
told that Maric – a pupil of Bartok-epigone Josip Slavenski
- was the most prominent figure in contemporary Serbian music.
She was much affected by hearing Stravinsky’s Symphony of
Psalms and meeting Bartók in Strasbourg in the 1930s. The same decade saw her conducting the
Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and studying with Aloys Haba.
Her devotion to Haba’s quarter-tone system made life difficult
for her in the post-war communist regime. After the death of
her mother in the mid-1960s she gave up conventionally notated
composition and turned to literature. This produced some twenty
tapes (all now ruined apparently) in which she combined the
spoken words of Serbian poets with the sounds of the violin,
old cutlery, jewellery, keys and dental equipment. In the 1980s
and 1990s she returned to music – to chamber music reportedly
of an ascetic mysticism and sparsity.
These tapes are analogue
so get ready for some tape hiss – it’s not the end of the world
– trust me!
This is another of
those few Chandos CDs that seemed to get precious little or no
attention when first issued – in this case in 2004. CHAN 10085
(Bloch) is another example. I hope that these discs, the Prokofiev
and the various Melodiya quartet recordings do not signal the
end of the Chandos connection with the ex-Soviet states’ recording
efforts. How about some of the symphonies of Ivanovs, Cuclin,
Shaporin, Kenins and Adolfs Skulte?