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French Horn in Prague
Jaroslav KOFROŇ (1921-1966)
Sonatina for French Horn and Piano (1952) [8:02]
Zdeněk ŠESTÁK (b. 1925)
Concertino No. 2 for French Horn and Piano (1975) [6:43]
Klement SLAVICKÝ (1910-1999)
Capricci per corno e pianoforte (1967) [14:13]
Musica per corno solo (1988) [13:38]
Emil HLOBIL (1901-1987)
Sonata for French Horn and Piano, Op. 21 (1942) [8:02]
Přemysl Vojta (horn); Tomoko Sawano (piano)
rec. Kleiner Sendesaal, Haus des Rundfunks, Berlin, RBB, Nov 2012, Jan 2013.
SUPRAPHON SU41252 [60:05]

This is the launch album of Přemysl Vojta, solo horn of the Staatskapelle Berlin. Nothing too obvious then when he could easily have thrown his hat in with some gentle Mozart or uproarious Strauss. Well, I say, good on him! Here is a rumbustious stylist who evidently knows his instrument and is prepared to put his art at the service of a quartet of what are referred to as “20th-century Prague modernists”. Vojta describes these pieces as: “Works by unknown composers who experienced World War II, the German occupation, liberation, occupation by the ‘liberators’ and the bullying by the communist regime. May this recording be a reminiscence of that time and the people who lived through it.” 

“Modernists”? Well, no need to run screaming to the hills. The three movement Kofroň is, tuneful, playful, genial and makes you smile. It ends with victorious rhythmic grunts. Kofroň can, on this evdiecne, be thought of as a sort of counterpart to Gordon Jacob. Šeståk is more oblique in his language but the result is not rigidly atonal and the mood speaks eloquently enough. If the end of the Elegiaco movement moves into misty dissonance then the Allegro giusto is a lively and engaging traversal across the DMZ between hunting party tonality and spiky discord. Slavický had studied with Josef Suk but his Capricci are defiant and speak in the language of craggy defiance or lichen-hung reflection. The Musica per corno solo is in three movements and triumphantly answers the implicit challenge to keep such a work engaging across approaching 14 minutes. In the central Intermezzo lirico I hear what sounds very much like a refracted reference to the Bruckner Fourth Symphony. Hlobil’s 1942 Sonata is another discovery. I had suspected some obvious reference to the fearful times in which this had been written. No such thing - at least not in the Animato or the concluding Vivace. There are some very dark clouds at the start of the central Lento but these melt away into poetic musing. The finale is sans-souci jazzy - more than a Scaramouche touch of Françaix, Poulenc or Milhaud here.
The notes are useful. They are by Wanda Dobrovská.
Rather a nice and surprising collection of approachable music by composers from Prague.

Rob Barnett