One of the finest I have heard
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A winning partnership
A Lohengrin to
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Jan VIČAR (b.1949)
Fanfares of the Palacký University (1996) [1:54]
Music for Strings and Timpani (1980) [21:38] Vivat universitas! (2000) [7:29]
The Goddess of Žítková (2015) [17:54]
On Kate and with Kate (2008) [20:20]
The Way To The Sun (1980/2016) [6:51]
Barbora Polášková (mezzo soprano), Jiří Přibyl (bass)
Czech Children’s Choir Jitro
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Petr Vronsky, Marek Štilec
rec. 2016, Reduta in Olomouc, Czech Republic
No texts ARCO DIVA UP0187-2 [76:30]
Olomouc is the focus of this disc. It’s the city in which composer Jan Vičar was born and where he worked at university and it’s the city’s Philharmonic Orchestra that undertakes the responsibilities in this recording of his music. Olomouc has also inspired Vičar’s compositions whether via commissions or through the inspirations of association.
Fanfares of Palacký University is an example of the former route, having been commissioned by the university’s rector. This two-minute piece exudes brass confidence over a percussive bass. Though Moravian, it’s not in any obvious Janáčekian lineage. Vivat universitas! is also associated with the same university but its three brief movements do reflect much more of the tersely ceremonial Janáček. For a ‘symphonic procession’ for large orchestra its play of low brass and high winds can sound almost uneasy at points.
A much more substantial piece is the earliest example of Vičar’s writing to be found here, the Music for String and Timpani of 1980. Cast in four movements it’s full of expressive contrasts, moving from a calm, slow-moving Cantando, through a rhythmically taut, motorically post-Martinů Energico, and an austerely melancholic Monotematico through to a jagged, asymmetric finale. This final movement is almost filmic, and has a particularly vivid theme coursing through.
The Goddess of Žítková is a large-scale orchestral fantasy composed in 2015 and is the most recent of the compositions. At 18-minutes it’s of tone poem size and was inspired by folklore of the White Carpathians. There are some fine effects in this work, from woozy brass to powerful percussive statements, including the use of piano, and with a melismatic role for the soprano soloist. The music often seems on the verge of collapse or deflation, creatively so, though it’s a great shame that no texts are included – there is a role for the chorus. About Kate and With Kate is a folkloric cycle for children’s choir, solo children’s voices and baritone soloist. The premičre mustered a vast chorus numbering 600 but perhaps fortunately that’s not been replicated here. Tuneful, lively and wholly unpretentious these settings fit very nicely into the long-established tradition of Czech choral music performed by children’s choirs. The oddly named The Way to the (it’s called Cesta k in Czech, which is equally odd) is a 2016 revision of a work first written in 1980 which, I believe, was called The Way to the Sun. At any rate it’s full of vibrant colour and active wind writing, generates a kind of fugato effect at one point and then abruptly cuts off.
There’s no question that the absence of texts and translations is a big minus though it would clearly have added several pages to the booklet, which is largely the work of the composer and well devised and translated from Czech into English. The music shows Vičar’s interest in folksong, brass and in the compression of song and the expansion of symphonic tone poems. He is part of the Moravian musical heritage but has forged his own valuable path too.