As so often these days a live recording only announces itself
at the very end, with applause. For the duration you simply
wouldn’t otherwise know, so I suspect skilful editing has removed
extraneous shuffling and spluttering. Not that there would have
been much, given the June date, and the rarefied atmosphere
of the performances which call for concentrated listening. A
solo harp recital may promise vulnerability but actually the
opposite is often true with opportunities for virtuosic runs,
evocative colour and the added tapestries of collaborative partners
– here, the Wihan Quartet.
The programme, as Katerina Englichová admits in her booklet
note, caused her some concern given that she wanted to construct
a concert that was personal to her. Two are very closely associated
with her and all are part of her core repertory. Lukáš’s Per
tutte le corde – Quintette for harp, two violins and cello,
was actually written for her and she gave its premiere performance
with the Kubín Quartet. It’s suffused with the composer’s folkloric
affiliations, though this is never in danger of becoming too
purely alluring. Lukáš ensures, as ever, that the percussive
and the dappled are part of the aural landscape and this brief,
two movement work has tremendously rapt expressive moments as
well. There are some post-Martinu exultant and celebratory moments
in the second movement where skittering excitement alternates
with reflective contemplation.
Sylvie Bodorová wrote Mysterioum druidum for Englichová
and the Chamber Music Festival in Tucson, Arizona. It’s for
harp and strings, as with the Lukáš. The work is inspired by
Celtic myth and bardology, and the three movement work celebrates
them in sound. The first movement takes their trees as its central
motif, and there’s fiercely evocative writing as well as one
of her surging tunes – listen from around 3:40 (it’s tremendous).
The second movement is called Vindobona, the name of
a Celtic settlement in what is now Vienna. This sounds intriguingly
like a very stripped-down Tallis Fantasia – there’s a
baronial elegance as well to the writing before bardic soliloquies
for the strings. This unleashes a hell-for-leather finale in
which Fire Demons prevail; the daemonic dance is infused with
folklore once more and full of vitality and drama.
Though written in 1971 Fischer’s Etudes are meat and drink to
contemporary Czech and Slovak harpists. Englichová has selected
the first two and they offer contrast; the first being lyric
but full of contour and colour whilst the second is glittering.
The harpist has arranged the Bartók Romanian Dances for
harp, having taken the piano originals as her model. Many will
know the violin and piano version best. This is a fine and imaginative
translation which preserves, say, the rhythmic verve of the
Allegro fifth movement to real advantage. The Debussy is established
territory and the warm textures and impressionist flecks are
finely realised by the harpist and her colleagues from the Wihan.
The sense of rhythmic charge in the Danse profane is
palpable, and equally so the exultation at the close. Fun and
virtuosity fuse in Trnecek’s Fantasy on Smetana’s Tone Poem
Vltava which does, as it were, what it says on the tin.
Nevertheless it would be wrong to underestimate the nuance and
supple verve of the performance, which does well to mitigate
some of the more vaporously florid moments in such an undertaking
as this. David Watkins’s Fire Dance is from his Petite
Suite and has been recorded before. You can see why harpists
like it. It’s a vibrant show-stopper.
The harpist herself and the resident Arco Diva maestro Jirí
Štilec are joint music directors for this project and Václav
Roubal is responsible for the excellent sound editing responsibilities.
It’s good to know that such an artfully constructed programme
has been musically realised with such skill and authority.