In her well thought out and constructed programme Czech pianist Lada Valešovà presents dumkas from sources that include Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Russia and Ukraine. In her introduction she poses the question of how this musical device is so inextricably linked to the expression of the Slavic soul. The word has its origins in the Ukraine where the word 'dumka' is the diminutive of 'duma' which is the name for an epic ballad — a specifically Ukrainian concept that spread across the Slavic lands. Students of Russian history will also know that the first attempts at political debate took place in the closing years of the nineteenth century in the Duma — a tentative version of parliament — with the word 'duma' in this case deriving from the Russian verb dumat (думат) meaning to think or consider. In any event its musical form is a highly successful vehicle through which the feelings of sadness and deep reflection can be explored and expressed although there are times when it is also used to express joy and exuberance.
The disc begins with Dvořàk’s 1876 composition Dumka in D minor
in which he presents his own melody in dumka form. There's plenty to remind one of Chopin who also used the form in his composition Dumka, Op. 74 No. 19, KK IVb/9
. Dvořàk’s piece combines melancholic moments with lighter ones; an object lesson for any composer to follow. Significantly the next one is by his favourite pupil and later his son-in-law, Josef Suk whose early work in the same key has at its heart a most beautifully memorable tune. For a nineteen year old this is full of a maturity beyond his years.
Dvořàk’s Dumka and Furiant
is further removed from melancholia with a distinctly upbeat and confident air that marries the dumka form with the Czech dance, the furiant. Liszt, on the other hand, usually renowned for his flamboyant pianism, is in subdued mood here with a little piece penned for a ten year old daughter of Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein.
Mily Balakirev was one of those composers who enjoyed seeking out traditional tunes played in the myriad villages of the Russian Empire and beyond and then using them to great effect in his music. His Dumka in E flat minor
from 1900 is a good example of the contrast between major and minor keys that marks out the essence of the Slavic soul. Tchaikovsky’s Dumka in C minor
subtitled Russian rustic scene
has a merry little tune framed by the sort of huge sadness that Tchaikovsky could evoke like no other. It perfectly conjures the most palpably crushing loneliness.
Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko is often cited as the father of the dumka and his seven volume survey is the definitive work on the subject. As the notes indicate the opening of his Dumka-Shumka
of 1877, which also carries the subtitle of second piano rhapsody on Ukrainian folk themes, wonderfully portrays the cimbalom’s magical sounds. The contrast of those gentle sounds with a passionate stamping dance is extremely evocative.
Jumping from 1877 to 1936 we can see that the dumka is as alive and well in the twentieth century as it was in the nineteenth. Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů's musical mind still betrayed emotional attachments to his homeland despite his being well entrenched in Paris by the time he wrote two of these three pieces. The last was written in New York after both France and Czechoslovakia had been overrun by the Nazis and shows nostalgia for a time that was gone forever. The disc is nicely rounded off by a short improvisation by the pianist on Czech and Slovak folksongs that is both delightful and evocative.
Lada Valešovà’s first disc for Avie (review
) records music from her Czech homeland. Intimate Studies
was critically acclaimed and caused the following comment from The Daily Telegraph ‘
In this entirely imaginatively planned recital, Valešovà plays with heart-warming sensibility and tonal refinement’. If I could find other words that were equally appropriate to describe this disc then I would but they sum up the feelings I have so perfectly I’ll just say 'ditto'. There are plenty of other piano works from the lands that are covered on this disc. On the strength of it I look forward to Valešovà exploring more of those rich veins.