Pavel Zemek NOVÁK (b.1957)
24 Preludes and Fugues (1989-2006)
[6] Preludes and Fugues, Book One (Old Testament) [21:39]
[6] Preludes and Fugues, Book Two (Old Testament) [25:50]
[6] Preludes and Fugues, Book Three (New Testament) 'The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt among us' [17:46]
[6] Fugues and Postludes, Book Four (New Testament) 'Landscapes of the Lamb' [11:02]
William Howard (piano)
rec. Music Room, Champs Hill, Sussex, 6-13 August 2009. DDD

Pavel Novák's 24 preludes and fugues fill this disc rather satisfyingly.

Novák was born in south Moravia. He studied composition in Brno with Miloslav Istvan who had been taught by Janáček pupil Jaroslav Kvapil … and related to the pianist Radoslav Kvapil, I wonder?

He secured a British Council grant and travelled to London in 1993 where he studied with George Benjamin. He later went to work with Gérard Grisey in Paris and now teaches in Brno. At one time he was principal oboe at the Brno national theatre. There are now at least five symphonies and six string quartets. Novák has in hand a large-scale setting for three choirs and three orchestras of the St Mark Passion and has recently set pen to paper with a St Luke Passion.

These 24 pieces were written specifically for William Howard over the period from 1989 to 2006 and were premiered at Dartington just ten or so miles from where I grew up in Devon. The complete sequence was performed by Howard in Brno in September 2007 and again later the same year in London.

The music is bitingly detailed. It defies the bounds of tonality yet never abdicates the need to communicate with audiences. Dissonance is present but in a caramelised Bergian sense or occasionally in a Messiaenic gauzy impressionistic haze. On occasions the music romps through violent altercation with the music's heroic sense preserved - even accentuated. Howard kicks his way though ice and crystal constructs - blazes and fades. Memorable emphasis is found in the ffff Clamavis – No. 9 in book 1. De profundis battles can be heard in the strenuous complexity of the tenth. Sidereal lights glint and gleam recalling the work of Urmas Sisask. There is Beethovenian brusqueness too (13). In No. 14 baroque patterning is suddenly bogged down and transformed. The 18th is flighty and joyfully Bachian. Then in the 30th there is a fast dripping effect a little like the chiming in Nights in the Gardens of Spain. A violent cimbalom sound is as hard as stone in No. 37 linking perhaps with the Bartókian impacts of No. 39. In 44 and 46 we encounter a motorised pianola effect – a moment suggesting Nancarrow. There is relaxation in the deliquescent coruscations of No. 47.

The liner-note is by composer David Matthews who brackets this cycle as one of the finest piano works of our time standing with Ligeti’s three books of Etudes.

Novák is not related to any of the other two Nováks we may know.

We need to hear this music and those of us who enjoy the provocation and stimulation of 24s must not miss out on this.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Byzantion

Detailed Track-Listing
Book One (Old Testament)
1 Prelude One: The Creation of Heaven and Earth [2:17]
2 Fugue One: The Creation of Man [1:52]
3 Prelude Two: The Age of the Patriarchs [1:37]
4 Fugue Two: Noah [1:41]
5 Prelude Three: The Flood [1:22]
6 Fugue Three: Noah's Ark [2:14]
7 Prelude Four: The Departure of Abraham [0:57]
8 Fugue Four: Abraham and Isaac [0:47]
9 Prelude Five: The Burning Bush [3:02]
10 Fugue Five: Moses [1:04]
11 Prelude Six: Saul and David [1:47]
12 Fugue Six: King David [2:59]

Book Two (Old Testament)
13 Prelude Seven: Job [0:43]
14 Fugue Seven: The Book of Proverbs [1:09]
15 Prelude Eight: The Little Book of Psalms (1) [2:41]
16 Fugue Eight: The Little Book of Psalms (2) [3:59]
17 Prelude Nine: Ecclesiasticus [2:37]
18 Fugue Nine: The Song of Songs [1:01]
19 Prelude Ten: Elijah [4:04]
20 Fugue Ten: Elisha [2:39]
21 Prelude Eleven: The Manetations of Jeremiah [1:21]
22 Fugue Eleven: Jeremiah [1:03]
23 Prelude Twelve: Isaiah (1) [1:57]
24 Fugue Twelve: Isaiah (2) [2:36]

Book Three (New Testament) 'The Word became flesh and dwelt among us' (Gospel of St. John 1:14)
25 Prelude Thirteen [1:46]
26 Fugue Thirteen [1:19]
27 Prelude Fourteen [2:14]
28 Fugue Fourteen [1:11]
29 Prelude Fifteen [1:15]
30 Fugue Fifteen [1:33]
31 Prelude Sixteen [1:54]
32 Fugue Sixteen [0:30]
33 Prelude Seventeen [0:56]
34 Fugue Seventeen [2:07]
35 Prelude Eighteen: (Aria) The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross [2:19]
36 Fugue Eighteen [0:42]

Book Four (New Testament) Landscapes of the Lamb
37 Fugue Nineteen [0:52]
38 Postlude Nineteen [0:40]
39 Fugue Twenty [0:50]
40 Postlude Twenty [0:44]
41 Fugue Twenty One [0:50]
42 Postlude Twenty One [0:40]
43 Fugue Twenty Two [0:55]
44 Postlude Twenty Two (Consonance) [0:31]
45 Fugue Twenty Three [0:27]
46 Postlude Twenty Three (Consonance) [0:28]
47 Parallel Fugue and Postlude Twenty Four (Unison) [4:05]

Defies the bounds of tonality yet never abdicates the need to communicate with audiences.