Tadeás SALVA (1937-1995)
Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra (1967) [11:57]
Three Arias for Cello and Piano (1990) [13:40]
Little Suite for Cello and Piano (1989) [9:03]
Slovak Concerto Grosso No. 3, for Violin, Cello and Organ (1987) [20:30]
Eight Preludes for Two Cellos (1995) [17:20]
Eugen Prochác (cello); with Nora Skuta (piano), Bernadette Šuňavská (organ), Juraj Čižmarovič (violin), Ján Slávík (cello); members of the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Marián Lejeva
rec. 26 April 2004, 11 May 2004, 17 May 2004, 28 May 2005, 9-10 February 2006, Concert Hall of Slovak Radio, Bratislava, Slovak Republic
NAXOS 8.572509 [72:53]
This fascinating disc presents Tadeás Salva as “one of the foremost Slovakian composers of his generation”. I think many collectors would be hard put to name many more. The booklet note by Vladimir Godár is invaluable, but given the difficulty of finding information about the composer, it is a pity that it doesn’t go further. The recordings, which are very fine, are not new but seem not to have been widely available before.
The Cello Concerto is very much a work of its time. It might have been written by any one of several European avant-garde composers whose reputation has its origin in the sixties. One of these is undoubtedly Ligeti, and indeed that composer’s Cello Concerto is cited in the booklet as a model for this one. The music is hyperactive and immediately striking. I have listened to it four times and am still only beginning to discern its form and its aims. The booklet notes tell me that there are two movements, for example, but I’m still unsure where the second movement begins. The instrumental ensemble is made up of five fairly unrelated instruments plus an extensive percussion section, and the first impression is one of unrelieved scratching, blowing and - especially - bashing. This kneejerk reaction is modified on subsequent hearings, during which one begins to hear a much wider range of instrumental colour and thematic content. The cello writing is highly challenging, and rarely exploits the instrument’s singing capacities. There are aleatoric elements in the work, but I have not seen a score and would certainly not be able to identify where they occur. The work is a compelling one, but it does not give up its secrets easily. The performance seems sensationally surefooted and committed.
One’s first reaction is that this is to be a challenging disc. This turns out to be only partly the case, as later in the composer’s career he turned more and more to folk music, integrating it into his own, modernist style. Twenty years later, for example, in the Slovak Concerto Grosso No. 3 - Salva adopted this title for several of his chamber works - the music is far more tonal and with perfectly audible folk influence. It is still packed with incident, with only a few points of repose occurring in the last of the three movements. The instrumental writing is highly inventive, and this is a most attractive and enjoyable work overall.
If the Cello Concerto barely makes use of the instrument’s singing power, the Little Suite makes up for it. That feature, combined with a musical language even more tonal and consonant than that of the Concerto Grosso, combine to make this work more approachable still. In addition should be noted the real distinction and attractiveness of the musical ideas. The Three Arias are less immediately attractive but repay no less repeated listening. In the first piece cello and piano parts turn obsessively around a very few short motifs. This, like much of the music in this collection, is nervous and constantly moving. The second aria begins in much the same mood, and indeed the whole work, with the exception of one short passage in the third piece where the temperature dips for an instant, is one of unrelenting intensity. The Eight Preludes were left unfinished at Salva’s untimely death. Each of the short pieces makes much use of imitation and folk elements. The music is rather ascetic, an almost inevitable consequence of the forces used. Perhaps more were planned, but otherwise there is nothing here to suggest that the work is incomplete, not even the abrupt, unexpected endings which are a feature of many of the works in this collection.
The name Tadeás Salva was new to me, and may well be to the majority of readers. This is a useful introduction to his work. Eugen Prochác is a very fine cellist indeed, and I should be very fascinated to hear him in more central repertoire. He is joined on this disc by a number of other Slovak instrumentalists. With world-class playing such as this, they are indeed splendid ambassadors for the composer.
Anyone with an interest in the byways of modern music should not miss this disc.
William Hedley 

Anyone with an interest in the byways of modern music should not miss this disc.