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Czech Contemporary Music
Jaroslav KRCEK (b.1939)
Music for Trio [7:57]
Jirí GEMROT (b.1957)
Moments for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon [12:58]
Jaroslav KRCEK
Renaissance trio [7:10]
Ilja HURNÍK (b.1922)
Trio for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon [10:17]
Tomaš SVOBODA (b.1939)
Toccata for a Woodwind Trio [1:35]
Jaroslav KRCEK
Hail, Thou Graceful Music [9:48]
The Novák Trio (Gabriela Krcková (oboe), Štepán Koutník (clarinet), Vladimir Lejcko (bassoon))
rec. Domovina Studio, Prague, Czech Republic, December 2011 (Krcek; Svoboda); studios of Czech Radio, Prague, Czech Republic, April 1992 (Gemrot; Hurník)
ARCODIVA UP 0032-2 231 [51:00]

The word ‘contemporary’ has the ability to put some people off; those who believe they will find such music too ‘clanking’ and ‘crashing’ for their ears to take. However, there seems to be something about the combination of oboe, clarinet and bassoon that removes any difficulty that a listener might have in listening to contemporary music. The sounds these wonderfully expressive instruments make are so gentle that even spiky rhythms are rendered soft and lush. In the case of this disc you just know you’re going to enjoy it right from the opening bars. What comes from then on doesn’t disappoint in any way. This is music that will have you smiling right the way through until the very last notes and make you want to listen to it all over again right away.
Three of the six short works on the disc are by Jaroslav Krcek who was born in 1939 in a small village near Ceské Budejovice, the town made world famous by its magnificent beer Budvar - and by the name’s appropriation by US brewery giant Anheuser–Busch as Budweiser. Krcek is quoted in the booklet notes as saying that the works were composed for the Novák Trio specifically despite his usual reticence in accepting commissions. He also explains that he does not generally favour “long, extensive forms in chamber music” preferring instead to stick to short movements. The first work, his Music for Trio (or in his notes Music for the Trio) opens with an Andante that is full of beauty and grace. The second movement is a brief upbeat and lively Vivo, the first of three in the piece. After this comes a second Andante which is again imbued with the same qualities as the first. Then there’s the second Vivo, another lively and delightful interlude lasting a mere 64 seconds. The fifth movement is a Largo that is serious and reflective before the final Vivo rounds off a perfect trio comprising 8 minutes of highly inventive and thoroughly satisfying music.
Jirí Gemrot is a composer whose music I have come across before. I have been highly impressed with it on each occasion. This short 13 minute work comprising five Moments for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon confirms that opinion - a real joy. Even the first two short movements marked Inquieto and Grave are so melodious that one can’t help being affected by them. The third, marked Ironico, piccante is playful and full of fun. The fourth movement is marked Lamentoso which indeed it is and is wonderfully expressive. It is a complete contrast to the final movement, surely the only one in music to be marked Festevolmente con fuoco. When you’ve heard it you can’t help but agree that it could hardly be described any other way: it fairly bubbles along its short 1:40 length.
Krcek’s second offering is his Renaissance Trio which was written to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Novák Trio in 2009. It is a simply gorgeous work that features some interesting coincidences. Krcek called it “There are Three in Everything” since as he explains in the notes “...when you counted all the bars and notes, the sum total of the digits in the resulting number was three. By the way, it took me three days to compose it in our cottage, whose building registry number is 3”. The introductory movement is an Intrada with a very successful renaissance feel to it. The second with the intriguing marking of Bird intermezzo is a real evocation of birds, particularly a cuckoo if I’m not mistaken. The third movement marked The Dance is by turns fast and graceful. The work finishes with The Wild Whirl which is exactly that with fast, frenetic music tempered with graceful interludes.
The oldest composer represented on the disc is Ilja Hurník who was born in 1922 in the Silesian village of Poruba from which the family was forced to flee to Prague on the annexation of the Sudetenland by the Nazis in 1938. There he became a pupil of the composer Vitezslav Novák who taught him composition. Described as a Renaissance Man, due to his wide range of interests that include pianist, librettist, essayist, playwright and short story writer, Hurník is a composer of distinction. His music is characterised by wit, humour and beautifully sensitive flowing lines that incorporate wonderfully evocative melodies. His Trio for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon is a perfect example of those qualities and it exploits all the wonderful characteristics of these instruments.
The shortest piece on the disc is Tomáš Svoboda’s Toccata for a Woodwind Trio which he dedicated to the Novák Trio’s oboist Gabriela Krcková. It is as he describes “a whirling dance with colourful harmonies and intertwining polyphony of all three instruments”. It is quite astonishing how much material he has managed to shoehorn into a piece that lasts only a minute and a half. It’s no wonder that in his adopted country of the USA he is one of the most performed of all composers of contemporary music.
The disc closes with the final work by Jaroslav Krcek, his Hail, Thou Graceful Music, which is a musical evocation of the three constituent parts of what was Czechoslovakia between 1918-1992. Its three short movements are entitled From Slovakia, From Moravia, From Bohemia. It is a wholly gorgeous work that uses traditional folk tunes to truly reflect the parts of the country concerned. The first movement From Slovakia sees the introduction of an unlisted flute to reflect the pastoral nature of Slovakia which is largely rural. Anyone who has visited the country will recognise the references which have similarities with its neighbours Hungary and Ukraine. Dance-like rhythms abound in the short From Moravia. The final movement, From Bohemia is a rather more sedate affair. This perhaps reflects the fact that it is Bohemia which included Czechoslovakia’s capital Prague and still does, following Slovakia’s separation from the union and its renaming as the Czech Republic. These three charming movements conclude a great disc of brilliantly inventive and individual compositions that showcase the superb sounds od these three instruments - lovely.
This is a disc to savour. It shines a light onto a group of composers who will be little known to most listeners but whose music will reward anyone who discovers them.
Steve Arloff

See also review by Byzantion