This disc is part of a series published by Polish label Dux entitled 'Young Composers in Homage to Frédéric Chopin', a four-year Franco-Polish project to sponsor 13 talented young(ish) musicians. Quite what Chopin would have made of the music of Prague-born, France-based composer Krytof Mar(atka is anyone's guess. He is a graduate of IRCAM and the two works on this CD, whilst startlingly original, are also unambiguously modernistic.
The Praharphona Sextet can further lay claim to having the most bizarre set of movement titles/descriptions certainly this side of the 1960s. The titles consist of a heady mixture of normal language, typographic symbols and mysterious formula-like appellations, such as p,lA,mM,eny or O.=72, all of which are in fact cryptograms alluding to Mar(atka's native city, and most of which are explained, but none too lucidly, in the notes.
The Sextet - with its titular reference both to the prominent harp, and to 'Praha', the Czech for Prague - is the gentler introduction to Mar(atka's challenging but ultimately rewarding music. The work is derived from a larger Praharphona for chamber orchestra, and to some ears will sound like an instrumental omnium-gatherum - the percussionist is required to play, often in novel ways, twenty different instruments, including a kazoo and a slide flute! Yet the harp and string quartet are in earnest throughout, and although the purported folk and historical travelogue elements are not easily discernible, the musical journey - a combination of reflective stroll and light-headed romp - is both picturesque and mentally refreshing. The last few yards are wild!
The second work, Hypnózy - Czech for 'hypnosis' - takes its title from an occupation of Mar(atka's father, in whose memory it was written. Its five movements, each spotlighting a different instrument, are labelled 'Séances', referring to hypnosis sittings rather than ouija board sessions. Even so, the instruments do seem at times to be oozing musical ectoplasm, so otherworldly or disembodied are the sounds Mar(atka calls for - which the extraordinary soloists of Ensemble Calliopée, who count Mar(atka's wife among their number, gamely and unerringly furnish. The booklet notes indicate that performance required "several weeks of arduous rehearsal work", and though it may not be "one of the most strikingly original and inspired Wind Quintets ever written", as the notes claim, it certainly is memorably imaginative.
Sound quality is excellent, as it nearly always is in Polish recordings. The English-Polish-French booklet is detailed and informative, although the notes tend towards sometimes ludicrous hagiography: "Mar(atka's music implies new modes of playing and thinking. Aloof from all intellectual systems, his is the real radical creativity. His procedures [...] can be a guideline to new generations". Such hyperbole does the composer no favours; nor does the same writer's inclination to prolixity, pretentiousness, and, on occasion, out-and-out gibberish, not helped by unidiomatically rendered translations or numerous silly typos - "who's" for "whose", "now a days" etc. All of that could have been eradicated if Dux had got hold of a decent native-English proof-reader - and a note-writer capable of language that is demure.
Finally, it almost goes without saying that the CD is considerably shorter than it ought to be, but from a purely musical perspective at least, the adventurous listener should find in this oddest of odd homages to Chopin plenty to surprise, impress and entertain.
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