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Vasilije MOKRANJAC (1923-1984)
String Quartet in D minor (1949) [26:57]
Violin Sonata in G minor (1952) [22:37]
Old Song for violin and piano in G sharp minor (early 1950s) [3:37]
Dance for violin and piano in E minor (early 1950s) [2:50]
Thomas Christian Ensemble (Quartet); Thomas Christian (violin); Evgeny Sinayskiy (piano)
rec. Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden, SWR, 10-14 February 2014
CPO 777 893-2 [56:00]

CPO continue to plough fields untilled by others. Long may they continue. In this case they have chosen to present the chamber music of Serbian composer Vasilije Mokranjac; not to be confused with Stevan Mokranjac (1856-1914), a Serbian composer from an earlier generation.

In addition to a small clutch of chamber pieces Mokranjac wrote piano solos and some fourteen orchestral works of which five are symphonies: 1961, 1965, 1967, 1972 and 1979. I rather hope that CPO will record those as well. I wonder if radio orchestra archives in the Balkans could help.

These central European scores, forthrightly recorded, are easy to take on board — more Kodály/Ravel than Bartók. They are constructed with sufficient fibre to hold the attention. Given their dates they are written in an old-fashioned idiom but that hardly matters.

The four movement String Quartet is the longest work here. It is tonal and strong on cantilena with a melos that is dense and affluent yet lucid. The ideas inhabit a lively pastoralism and in the second movement explore a touching tenderness that had me thinking of Miaskovsky. A parallel voice in Mokranjac's first two movements is that of the Violin Concerto by Latvian Janis Ivanovs (1906-1983), itself a treasurable work dating from about the same time. Mokranjac tints his music darkly in the pensive and introspective third movement. The finale hums with desperate energy that reminded me of similar moments in Smetana's First Quartet. The players of the Thomas Christian Ensemble are kept busy and trounce the music's challenges. On this evidence it would be good to hear them in a kindred work, Bax's First String Quartet.

The Violin Sonata is in four movements. The piano launches the first movement in stygian depths out of which the violin sings half sweetly and half in shadow. Across this score the piano's witchcraft provides a darkness-obsessed canvas over which the violin, often high above, dashes, reflects and dreams. The second movement has more than a waft of zigeuner about it. The third mooches along in a murky and at times angry gloom. Out of this miasma the violin finally wings its way free though far from confident. A Tzigane style finale shimmers and struts.

The Violin Sonata has been recorded before in a mixed recital by Lorenzo Gatto and Milan Popovic. It was on Fuga Libera and the Mokranjac there kept company with sonatas by Enescu and Martinů. I have not heard that disc.

None of this music is difficult to assimilate. The two violin miniatures that close the disc are particularly accessible. Old Song is an unshowy, sentimental meditation with a violin line that slowly probes and swoons. Dance flickers, smokes and flames with Enescu-like suggestions of glimmering sunshine and early morning mist: a Serbian Tzigane rather in the same track as the mercurial finale of the Sonata.

Christian and Sinayskiy are to be thanked for their convincing accounts of music that lacks a known performing tradition against which to gauge their efforts. In any event thanks to their craft and artistry the music speaks attractively and with conviction.

The shorter than usual liner-essay (three and half pages) by Stefan Cvetkovic is succinct and useful. It is in German and English. It's a shame that other works by Mokranjac could not have been found. There was certainly room for them.

Let's hope that CPO will find some way of offering at least a sampling of Mokranjac's symphonies. Perhaps they will at the same time find ways of presenting some of the twenty symphonies of Dimitrie Cuclin (1885-1978), a strongly leading voice in the music of Romania, Serbia's neighbour.

Rob Barnett
 
CPO continue to plough fields untilled by others. Long may they continue. In this case they have chosen to present the chamber music of Serbian composer Vasilije Mokranjac; not to be confused with Stevan Mokranjac (1856-1914), a Serbian composer from an earlier generation.

In addition to a small clutch of chamber pieces Mokranjac wrote piano solos and some fourteen orchestral works of which five are symphonies: 1961, 1965, 1967, 1972 and 1979. I rather hope that CPO will record those as well. I wonder if radio orchestra archives in the Balkans could help.

These central European scores, forthrightly recorded, are easy to take on board — more Kodály/Ravel than Bartók. They are constructed with sufficient fibre to hold the attention. Given their dates they are written in an old-fashioned idiom but that hardly matters.

The four movement String Quartet is the longest work here. It is tonal and strong on cantilena with a melos that is dense and affluent yet lucid. The ideas inhabit a lively pastoralism and in the second movement explore a touching tenderness that had me thinking of Miaskovsky. A parallel voice in Mokranjac's first two movements is that of the Violin Concerto by Latvian Janis Ivanovs (1906-1983), itself a treasurable work dating from about the same time. Mokranjac tints his music darkly in the pensive and introspective third movement. The finale hums with desperate energy that reminded me of similar moments in Smetana's First Quartet. The players of the Thomas Christian Ensemble are kept busy and trounce the music's challenges. On this evidence it would be good to hear them in a kindred work, Bax's First String Quartet.

The Violin Sonata is in four movements. The piano launches the first movement in stygian depths out of which the violin sings half sweetly and half in shadow. Across this score the piano's witchcraft provides a darkness-obsessed canvas over which the violin, often high above, dashes, reflects and dreams. The second movement has more than a waft of zigeuner about it. The third mooches along in a murky and at times angry gloom. Out of this miasma the violin finally wings its way free though far from confident. A Tzigane style finale shimmers and struts.

The Violin Sonata has been recorded before in a mixed recital by Lorenzo Gatto and Milan Popovic. It was on Fuga Libera and the Mokranjac there kept company with sonatas by Enescu and Martinů. I have not heard that disc.

None of this music is difficult to assimilate. The two violin miniatures that close the disc are particularly accessible. Old Song is an unshowy, sentimental meditation with a violin line that slowly probes and swoons. Dance flickers, smokes and flames with Enescu-like suggestions of glimmering sunshine and early morning mist: a Serbian Tzigane rather in the same track as the mercurial finale of the Sonata.

Christian and Sinayskiy are to be thanked for their convincing accounts of music that lacks a known performing tradition against which to gauge their efforts. In any event thanks to their craft and artistry the music speaks attractively and with conviction.

The shorter than usual liner-essay (three and half pages) by Stefan Cvetkovic is succinct and useful. It is in German and English. It's a shame that other works by Mokranjac could not have been found. There was certainly room for them.

Let's hope that CPO will find some way of offering at least a sampling of Mokranjac's symphonies. Perhaps they will at the same time find ways of presenting some of the twenty symphonies of Dimitrie Cuclin (1885-1978), a strongly leading voice in the music of Romania, Serbia's neighbour.

Rob Barnett

Footnote
I am grateful to Rob Sykes for writing to point out there is a Serbian CD set (UKS Sokoj-MIC CD 7003) that features three of Mokranjac's symphonies (2, 4 and 5). This is as noted in Mike Herman’s East-Central European and Balkan symphonies discography). Sadly neither Mr Sykes nor I can find a source for this set. I see from MIke's listing that symphonies 1 and 2 were recorded on LP. Does anyone have these symphonies. If so please contact me at rob.barnett1@btinternet.com

Rob Barnett

 

 




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