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Ljubica MARIĆ (1909-2003)
Byzantine Concerto for piano and orchestra (1959) [25:09]
Threshold of Dream for soprano, alto, narrator and chamber orchestra (1961) [8:51]
Ostinato super thema Octoïcha for piano, harp and string orchestra (1963) [6:41]
Songs of Space - cantata for mixed choir and symphony orchestra (1963) [28:11]
Dragolava Nikolić (soprano, alto); Olga Jovanović (piano) (Concerto); Ljubica Marić (piano) (Ostinato); Jovan Milićević (narrator) (Threshold); Josip Pikelj (harp) (Ostinato); Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra/Oskar Danon (Concerto); Radio-Television Belgrade Chamber Orchestra/Oskar Danon; Radio-Television Belgrade Mixed Choir and Symphony Orchestra/Mladen Jagušt (Songs)
rec. RTV Serbia, 1977 (Songs); 1964. ADD
CHANDOS HISTORICAL CHAN10267H [69:12] 

 

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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 operas 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?

Rob Barnett





 


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