Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
1. Il Tramonto (The Sunset) (1914) [15:41]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
2. Cat’s Cradle Songs (1915-16) [4:31]
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935)
3. Es sang vor langen Jahren (1984) [7:13]
Sylvie BODOROVÁ (b.1954)
4. Ama Me (1999) [14:24]
5. Three Psalms (2015) [11:44]
Petr EBEN (1929)
6. Loveless Songs (1963) [16:05]
Eva Garajová (mezzo soprano)
Zemlinsky Quartet (1, 5)
Ludmila Peterková, Jana Lahodná, Marek Švejkar (clarinets) (2)
Jaroslav Svěcený (violin) (3)
Jitka Hosprová (viola) (3, 6)
Katerina Englichova (harp) (4)
Texts and translations included
rec. Domovina Studio, Prague, 2015
ARCO DIVA UP0184-2 131 [70:09]
The rationale for this unconventional-looking programme is one of music for mezzo with accompanying instrumental forces. The Respighi and Stravinsky date from the years 1914-16 whilst Sylvie Bodorová, an Arco Diva favourite, brings the recital pretty much up to date with her newly composed Three Psalms.
Respighi’s The Sunset takes verses by Shelley and sets them for mezzo and string quartet, though he was later to arrange it for an accompanying string orchestra. Respighi laces this passionate love-longing-and-death poem with refined impressionistic gestures, and vests it with considerable colour. Quite whether Eva Garajová’s operatically strident singing is appropriate to the more refined and nature-narrative elements of the poem and Respighi’s setting of it is a moot question. Irmgard Seefried and Janet Baker are just two of the most eminent exponents of the string orchestral version on disc whilst Anne Sofie von Otter and Magdalena Kožená have recorded the string quartet original. All four - but in this context specifically von Otter and Kožená - offer far more nuanced and less invasive accounts. Garajová’s vibrato is unrelieved and as she starts in full operatic mode there’s not much expressive leeway. Clarity of articulation also suffers.
The remainder of the programme suffers less from this mismatch between means and expression. Stravinsky’s brief Cat’s Cradle Songs, or Cat Lullabies if you prefer Arco Diva’s translation, are for mezzo and three clarinets. These epigrammatic affairs are delightfully done, the whooping clarinet close of the Tom-Cat song adroitly achieved here. Two thirds of the Pragart Trio are present for Arvo Pärt’s Es sang vor langen Jahren - the mezzo, and violist Jítka Hosprová - and they’re joined by violinist Jaroslav Svěcený. Garajová’s strong chest voice is prominent in this work - which can also be sung by countertenor - and the ritornello effects from the two distinguished string players is also mightily effective.
The piece which gives its name to the disc title is a three movement song cycle that explores familiar concerns to Bodorová. The terse melancholy of the first, the Ave Maria, and in the central song, Mamo, have a consonance with some of the music in her Roma settings to be found on the album called Ja Ra Laj (UP01102-131) whilst the syncopated final song, written by the composer and Norman Silver in English, is full of joy. Her Three Psalms for voice and string quartet balance beautifully voiced melancholy and expressive depth, ending with growing confidence reminiscent of Martinů.
Petr Eben’s Loveless Songs, written in 1963 for singer and viola, offer some intriguingly abrupt counterpoint as well as some very spare, reserved and even allusive commentaries by the viola. The third song of six offers the most declamatory and angry music embodying a brief parlando scream.
With a vivid recording and good notes this recital, with reservations duly noted, offers attractive and sympathetic performances.