Andrea Kalivodová: The Paths of Love
Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Songs on One Page, H294 [7:05]
Song on Two Pages, H302 No 1 [1:15]
Leos JANÁCEK (1854-1928)
Moravian Folk Poetry in Song, seven excerpts [9:31]
Jan KUNC (1883-1976)
Kacenka Stood on the Danube’s Shore, Op 14 [10:01]
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Gypsy Melodies, Op 55 (sung in Slovak) [13:06]
Petr EBEN (1929-2007)
The Most Secret Songs, for low voice and piano [13:46]
Otakar OSTRCIL (1879-1935)
Orphan Child, Op 8 [11:01]
Andrea Kalivodová (mezzo); Ladislava Vondrácková (piano)
rec. live, 3 June 2011, Gustav Mahler Hotel, Jihlava, Czech Republic
ARCODIVA UP 0135-2 131 [65:43]
Martinu, Janácek, Dvorák and the less familiar names of Jan Kunc, Otakar Ostrcil, and Petr Eben: this is a treasury of Czech, Slovak, and Moravian songs. The title’s no joke, either: these may not all be love songs - the lyrics to Ostrcil’s Orphan Child are particularly depressing - but they are all intimate songs: confidences, so to speak.
Martinu’s extremely short selections – songs literally written to appear on one page or two – are all gems, with even the most abrupt-seeming ending feeling satisfactory: ‘ah, of course’. The Song on Two Pages selected from a larger collection for this album was chosen with care: the disc was recorded live at a concert in the Moravian town of Jihlava, and the song’s lyrics praise “the country around Jihlava” because “Every Moravian girl carries herself like a candlestick, likes boys, and has an open heart.” These lead into similarly short and sweet songs by Janácek, who’s more prone to racy piano accompaniments and whose distinctive voice wafts through on more than one occasion.
As much as these delight and romance, they can hardly prepare you for Jan Kunc’s powerful ballad Kacenka Stood on the Danube’s Shore, which lavishes ten dramatic minutes on the unlikely subject of a woman who throws her newborn child into the Danube and is hanged for the crime, wishing for one last look at the man who impregnated her. The climax is potent and the ending suitably grim; here one notices, not for the first time, mezzo Andrea Kalivodová’s gift for acting the emotions in the music.
We then get Dvorák’s beloved set of Gypsy Songs, Op 55, including the legendary ‘Songs my Grandmother Taught Me’. This is followed by a set of Most Secret Songs by Petr Eben, the most recent work here since it dates from 1952. Written for the composer’s fiancée, they’re all love songs with touching lyrics - one by Eben himself, but most from Arabic poetry - and they are yet another outstanding cycle. I’m especially fond of No 4, ‘My Heart in the Morning Breeze’, with its haunting, uncertain accompaniment, and No 6, ‘Parting’, which is suitably spartan in feel. Last up is the sad ballad of the Orphan Child mentioned earlier, by Otakar Ostrcil. It’s marked from the piano introduction by a sense of sorrow, suffused with compassion for the subject and a Russian-like union of emotion and melody. There is concluding applause.
A word about mezzo Andrea Kalivodová. Her voice might charitably be described as an acquired taste: there’s a distinctive vibrato which I occasionally found irritating, and she occasionally screeches when singing loudly at high pitches. There are a couple moments that made me flinch. But if you acquire the taste for her tone, there are rewards, like the excellent sense of each song’s emotional heart and her ability to convey those feelings in tone, or the very conversational way in which she dispatches some of the miniatures. Ladislava Vondrácková makes the most out of the parts the composers give her - most of which are crafted with unusual skill. The recital was recorded live, but there are no technical slips, and no audience noise at all. The only oddity in the acoustic is that Kalivodová was evidently walking about the stage from left to right. The venue was, I’d guess from its sound, quite small.
Magdalena Kožená recorded quite a lot of this music for two DG albums recently (review, review). Her voice sets much higher standards for warmth, fullness, and pure beauty of tone; there’s also competition in the Petr Eben cycle from an old Supraphon album with the composer himself at the piano. This repertoire is well off the beaten path (of love?), so if it intrigues you, I do strongly recommend finding a sample clip or two and deciding if the voice will please you. If it does, the interpretations and songs are gems.
I haven’t mentioned the cover.
A wide range of really wonderful Czech repertoire. Look past the cover photo, though you may not be able to get past the voice.