Lukáš HURNÍK (b.1967)
Variations on a theme by Frank Zappa [14:46]
Serenade for Strings ‘Constellations’ (2001) [12:56]
Trigon, Concerto for violin and two orchestras (2012) [22:44]
Upside-down variations on a theme by Mozart [14:29]
On the Way from Litomyšl [8:30]
Kateřina Pavlíková (baritone saxophone), Pavel Fiedler (soprano saxophone), Prague Philharmonia/Jiří Bělohlávek (Zappa variations)
Talich Chamber Orchestra/Tomáš Netopil (Serenade)
Roman Patočka (violin)/Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vladimír Válek (Trigon)
Herold String Quartet (Mozart variations)
Philharmonia Hradec Králové/Marek Štilec (Litomyšl)
rec. 19 January 2014, live, Hall of the Czech National Bank, Prague (Zappa variations); live, 2002 Days of Contemporary Music festival (Serenade); 22 October 2012, live, Rudolfinum, Prague (Trigon); undated Czech Radio studio (Mozart variations); 24 January 2015, live, Hradec-Králové (Litomyšl)
ARCO DIVA UP0177-2 131 [73:45]

Lukáš Hurník embodies a kind of rock-classical synthesis in his compositions that goes hand-in-hand with his educational work. He has written a number of musical handbooks for use in primary and secondary schools, though this has not led to a falling off in his own works, nor has it lessened his involvement in music-making as conductor and chorus master. He’s also involved with Czech Radio. He’s a busy man.

The five pieces here come from recordings made by Czech Radio Prague and by the Philharmonia Hradec Králové. The lead piece, the one that gives its name to the disc title, is Variations on a theme by Frank Zappa. There are two saxophone soloists fronting the Prague Philharmonia directed by Jiří Behlohlavek – one soprano the other baritone - and they emerge quietly, ruminatively to inspire a jazz percussion-drenched variation. This is music of rhythmic zest and sonic colour with some lightly baroque-tinged moments to add piquancy, including a kind of ground bass section. Boldly exciting, the Variations receive a tremendous performance here in its world premiere. The Serenade for Strings, subtitled Constellations, is heard in a live 2002 recording. Bittersweet romanticism can be savoured in a work that sits in the lineage of earlier Czech string serenades. The second movement is in sonata form whilst there’s a droll waltz with pirouetting fiddle going its own sweet way, oblivious – nice touch. There are some lightly bluesy cadences in the fourth movement, called ‘Self Pity’, and a none-too-serious finale – an amiable close to a genial, light-hearted work.

Trigon is a concerto for violin and two orchestras. It was dedicated to the three Bs – Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, some of whose music is threaded into the score via subtle quotations – and commissioned by Lukas David, whose LP recording of Ernst’s Op.23 Concerto has never been surpassed. The premiere however was not given by David, who has a regrettably small discography, but by Roman Patočka. The work is entitled Trigon because the solo violinist occupies the top of the triangle, the two string orchestras occupying the base. That’s as may be, but this is quite a lyric-nostalgic piece with plenty of colour and percussion statements; a strong solo cadenza; hints of Stravinsky now and then but also giocoso elements that situate the piece on the light-hearted scale. A post-baroque rock cadenza in the finale is the most arresting material, over tocking percussion blocks.

The Upside Down Variations on a Theme by Mozart for string quartet operates on a back-to-front procedure in that it begins with the theme and ends with a fugue. There’s lightly stylised swing to be encountered, as well as puckish wit, whilst the theme itself – one of his least unpopular, shall we say – is subject to a light buffeting. Finally On the Way to Litomyšl – where the Smetana festival is held, and by which it was commissioned - is the most recent performance, having been taped in January 2015. It echoes Smetana’s Czech Song as well as music from The Bartered Bride. It’s an optimistic piece though it doesn’t have quite the personality of the other quartet of works.

All these live performances are heard in the best light and any minor smudges are hardly worth worrying about. The notes are very helpful, and I’ve tided up a few imprecisions in the English translations of work titles. Hurník is above all a communicator, and his vitality and deft talents can be heard aplenty here.

Jonathan Woolf

Vitality and deft talents can be heard aplenty here.