If you are at all familiar with the LP production of the then
Czechoslovak company Supraphon you will know the name of this
composer and of Zuzana Ruzickova. That said I had no idea that
there were so many Kalabis Supraphon recordings. This is presumably
everything? I also had no inkling that Ruzickova, whose name I
know from recordings as a harpsichordist, was also a pianist or
that she had been a survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen. Kalabis
met her in 1951 and they were married in 1954. The Piano Concerto
No. 1 was the composer's wedding gift to Ruzickova in 1954. She
continues the promotion of Kalabis through the Kalabis Foundations
in the USA and the Czech Republic.
symphonies, two violin concertos, as well as concertos for trumpet
and harpsichord. There are seven string quartets (I would very
much like to hear those) the same number achieved by Martinu,
a composer whose music he worked for indefatigably as President
of the Martinu Foundation and Institute between 1990 and 2003.
The Piano Concerto No. 1 is a bright-eyed romantic piece, very
tuneful and brilliant yet with, youth heart and wit. One might
very loosely group this delightful work with the piano concertos
of Kabalevsky and the second Shostakovich.
Recorded in a resonant acoustic the two movement Fourth Symphony
is a different proposition. It broods with towering intensity
and even the composer's many excursions into chamber and soloistic
episodes here have a toughness about them. The glowingly warm
wattage of the violins of 2:40 forwards in the first movement
offers some relief - a transformation of the initial callous ideas.
Brilliance, but again some hardness, overarches the fast-pulsed
violins of the second movement which is more explosive: freighted
with torment as well as tenderness. The final shudderingly violent
pages have the edgy energy of William Schuman. The symphony was
commissioned by the Dresden Staatskapelle for their 425th anniversary
where it was conducted by Herbert Blomstedt in pre-Perestroika
The ballet Two Worlds
is based on a Lewis Carroll's Alice
. There's more than a touch of Martinu about
this score with occasional invasions from Stravinsky. It's a grown-up
score with clamorous and sometimes jazzy tendencies and some translucently
fantastic chamber-style writing. The second movement conjures
up, with a different accent, the same diaphanously fairytale fantasy
that we hear in Ravel's Ma Mčre l'Oye
. The presence
of orchestral piano amid this glimmering skein of sound again
emphasises the Martinu affinity. This 1980 television ballet seems
to have done well in both the USA and the Republic.
The Fifth Symphony is in a single formidable fifteen minute movement.
Once again the rushing athletic music of William Schuman comes
to mind right at the start. This is in combination with the furies
buzzing away like a frenzied variant of the insect noises at the
start of Martinu's Fantaisies Symphoniques
. Nothng neo-classical
about this. After this the music retreats into a sometimes haunted
spectral world shaken by outbreaks of violence.
The Chamber Music for strings is played by the commissioners:
the Prague Chamber Soloists directed by Vaclav Neumann. This is
another Kalabis string orchestra work which manages to combine
tenderness with dark-clouded occlusion. It comprises a fairly
austere allegro vivo
book-ended by two slower movements
ending in an understated tenderness from the sighing viola and
The Wind Quintet of the Czech Phil play the 1952 Divertimento
It would play nicely alongside the Mozart quintet. Delightfully
innocent music-making, pastoral accents and full of original touches.
The Second Quartet is played by the great Vlach Quartet. John
Solum (surely the same person as the same accomplished flautist
recorded by EMI in the 1970s in the Arnold flute concertos) in
his invaluable and sympathetic notes (fashioned from commentary
by Ruzickova) tells us that this work was written the shadow of
the impending death of Kalabis's father who is also the dedicatee
of this three movement work. It's an unsurprisingly spiky, unforgiving
work, raging against the darkness, with little tenderness until
we reach the finale - Epilogue: Adagio
. This is memorably
poignant with its Bergian moonlight, trembling intimacy and arpeggiated
Praga have recorded all the quartets on two CDs – another cycle
I would like to review here:-
Complete String Quartets 1-7. Kocian Quartet, Zemlinsky Quartet
CD 1 String Quartets No. 1, Op. 6 (1949); No. 2, Op. 19 (1962);
No. 3, Op. 48 (1977)
CD 2 String Quartets No. 4, Op. 62 (1983-4) “Tribute to J.S.Bach”,
in one movement; No. 5, Op. 63 (1984), “In memory of Marc Chagall’;
No. 6, Op. 68 (1987-8), in memory of Bohuslav Martinu; No. 7,
Op. 76 (1993), in one movement
Praga PRD 250 262-1 and PRD 250 262-2
The third CD is entirely of chamber music.
The Six two-voice Harpsichord Inventions are from 1962. These
are good-hearted life-enhancing miniatures written for and dedicated
to Ruzickova. They are said to have been inspired by Bach's duets
and by the works of Domenico Scarlatti. Kalabis contrives to avoid
any sense of pastiche or the archaic. The music is very brilliant
and full of character. For some reason it reminded me of those
imported Czech children's adventures of which the best was The
Singing Ringing Tree
, shown on British television in the 1960s.
The Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord is not in the least neo-Baroque
despite the instrumentation. It is played by Ruzickova and Josef
Suk who took it to concerts all over the world. This 1967 work
plays for just over fifteen minutes. It is passionate, emotionally
tumultuous and seriously impassioned as are the two symphonies
The 1974 Piano Trio is played by the elite of the Czech musical
aristocracy: Panenka, Suk and Chuchro. It's in three movements.
Once again it's succinct - all done and dusted in about quarter
of an hour. There's a pierrot moonscape at the centre and a metamorphosis
of the Furiant for the finale. Its passion reminded me a little
of John Ireland yet with Stravinskian accents.
We end in the quirky company of the two movement Trombone Sonata
of 1970, a sort of serenade with nobility mingled among the chivalric
By the way I am not sure why the otherwise admirable note-writer
correlates poor audio-technical engineering with the Communist
regime. In any event, as he says, the recordings are allowing
for age in good heart and even the oldest (Concerto and Quintet)
sound clear, detailed and vivid. Perhaps the 1970s orchestral
works sound shriller than they might in the violins. To associate
politics with engineering performance is as misplaced as linking
the quality of a composer's output with the Communism of the regime
in which he works. In any event it should be noted that Kalabis
despite his brave dissent achieved far more recordings under that
regime than the overt Communists Alan Bush and Alfred Corum (awaiting
discovery) did in the UK under a different political system.
It should be noted that there is a Supraphon
dedicated to three of Kalabis's orchestral works.
This collection would never have been possible without the cooperation
of Supraphon and the commitment of The Viktor Kalabis and Zuzana
Ruzickova foundations in the Czech Republic and in the USA.
This admirable boxed set is further distinguished by a wonderful
1960 photo of Ruzickova (my mother had those ‘Dame Edna’ winged
spectacles too!) and Kalabis in the shadow of Prague Castle. The
smiling portrait of the couple in their sixties can be found on
the back page. The inside back cover of the triple case has a
portrait of the couple with Rafael Kubelik.
This set is marked as a ‘limited authorised edition’ so do run
it to ground before it disappears. I hope that MSR will be able
to repeat the experiment with other Czech composers of the era:
Kabelac, Jezek, Vycpalek, Pauer, Dobias, Hanus and Burghauser.
I've just been reading your review of the Kalabis set. Just in
case, I pass on details of a Kalabis CD on Panton 81 9027-2 011,
which I bought from Musica Bona about eight years ago. I've never
quite understood whether Supraphon and Panton are separate companies,
but it seems likely they are connected. The CD contains the Third
Symphony, the Violin Concerto No 2, and the Concerto for Orchestra.
The Concerto for Orchestra was my introduction to Kalabis: it
was in a 2-LP set on Supraphon with works by Lukas, Feld and Hlobil
that was released, I think, in the mid-1970s. Thanks, too, for
the mention of the string quartets set. More temptation! Richard