BARGAIN OF MONTH
Vitezlav NOVÁK (1870-1949)
Sonata Eroica, Op.24 (1900) [26:04]
Songs of Winter Nights, Op.30 (1902-03): Pisen mesicní noci (Song of a moonlit night) - Andante amoroso [4:12]; Pisen bourlivé noci (Song of a stormy night) - Allegro tempestuoso [2:33]; Pisen vánocni noci (Song of Christmas night) - Andante misterioso [6:00]; Pisen noci karnevalové (Song of a carnival night) - Allegro burlesco [4:35]
Slovak Suite, Op.32 (1903): V kostele – Andante [5:26]; Mezi detmi - Vivace, giocoso [4:19]; Zamilovaní - Andante con moto [4:39]; U muziky - Allegro strepitoso [4:33]; V noci - Andante con tenerezza [7:38]
Dymák (Con fuoco) from Valachian Dances, Op. 34 No. 2 (1904) [6:14]
Radoslav Kvapil (piano)
rec. Stockenny, Powys, Wales, July 2010
ALTO ALC 1113 [76:18]
This is a rare bird indeed – a very recent recording from that grandee of Czech music: Radoslav Kvapil. May there be many more for his powers have not waned.
It was back in 2003 that Jonathan Woolf and I each welcomed the issue of a three CD Supraphon set in which Frantisek Rauch played the piano in an all-Novak set. Now we have Novak in modern sound from Kvapil.
Radoslav Kvapil has also recorded for Supraphon. I recall his multi-disc intégrale of the Dvorák solo piano music first issued on LP. Since then he has continued to record. A splendid series of Kvapil CDs in the shape of his “Anthology of Czech Piano Music” appeared at first on Unicorn. In recent times this series (and more) have been reissued on Regis and now on Alto. In the original series Kvapil devoted a disc to each of Dvorák, Smetana, Martinu, Vorisek, Fibich, Janácek and Suk. During 2011 they will reappear in boxed set form.
Sonata Eroica is a tempestuously romantic score. Rachmaninov might come to mind in this heaving emotional cauldron of a piece. It is said to be folksy but it doesn’t feel that way. There are only two movements and each revels in tragic-heroic turmoil. Beside this work Macdowell’s much earlier sonata of the same name seem positively placid. The masterful and convincingly authoritative Kvapil wrestles with the score allowing the writing its sense of danger and glorious struggle.
We move to different climes for the Songs of Winter Nights. This music glitters and is more introspective but before long we are back to the crashing waves and flashing forked lightning. The second Song is marked Tempestuoso. There’s a dark fantastic element here as if Novak with his twentieth century sensibilities was tapping into the Eben fairytales (favoured by Dvorák in his symphonic poems) yet giving them a more expressionist and grown-up edge than Dvorák’s palette would allow. Song of Christmas Night is the third piece. It glistens and shines in slow oscillation similar in manner to the later astral songs of Finzi. Song of a Carnival Night is the least gloomy and ambiguous of the four pieces but it too has its grotesque twists and turns of mood.
The Slovak Suite is rather more relaxed than the Sonata Eroica and Songs of Winter Nights. It might be better known to some in its orchestral guise. It still on occasion gives the impression of strenuous struggle as in the fantastic Muziky (tr. 10). There’s real joy in flight in the Vivace second movement. V noci returns us to the glistening mysteries of the Songs of Winter Nights with its melodic outline belled out in slow and ultimately warm motion.
The Valachian Dance – Dymak is just as muscular and late-romantic as the other writing on this disc. It was not quite what I was expecting given its ‘programme’. It is said to convey an ever-accelerating dance in which the girl is thrown high in the air by her partner and then caught after which the couple then whirl away at increasing speed.
The notes are by Ludmila Perinova, General Secretary of the International Novak Society. I hope that the Society will be able to turn its attention to recording the following late orchestral scores: Erotikon, Pan, Autumn Symphony Op. 62, May Symphony Op. 73 and the Zizka Scenes Op. 79b.
If you can find the following Novak/Kvapil project do snap it up. It’s the Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 12; Songs of a Winter Night and Slovak Songs. The recording was made in 1996, in the Czech Brethren Evanglic Church, Prague, Czech Republic. Kvapil’s co-artists are the Kocian Qt and the young Magdalena Kozená. It’s an ASV disc from 1998: CD DCA 998.
Novak is very well worth exploring so do have a look at the following reviews:-
The Storm - Supraphon
Tone Poems – Sejna (Supraphon)
Eight Nocturnes – Bostock (ClassicO)
Tone Poems and Songs – Bostock (ClassicO)
Lady Godiva and other tone poems – Pesek (Chandos)
There are many others MWI has not had the chance to review including two Supraphons of the ballets Nikotina (SU3050-2 031) and Signorina Gioventu (SU3049-2 031), a Virgin Classics/Pesek/RLPO disc (CDC 7243 5 45251 2 4) of the tone poems (deleted but can be had secondhand or via ArkivCD service) and Pan (Marco Polo 8.223325).
Radoslav Kvapil’s playing on this Alto disc is miraculously sure-footed and full of bounding insights. He is a virtuoso of finger dexterity, revelation of mood and narrative arch.
More rare Czech music from this source would be more than welcome and I hope that we will get further Novak works from Kvapil.
Miraculously sure-footed and full of insight. Kvapil is a virtuoso of dexterity, mood and narrative.