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Czech Viola Sonatas
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959) 
Sonata for Viola and Piano (1955) [16:02]
Karel HUSA (1921-2016)
Suite for Viola and Piano, Op.5 (1945) [10:33]
Viktor KALABIS (1923-2006) 
Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op.84 (1997) [13:56]
Jindřich FELD (1925-2007)
Sonata for Viola and Piano (1955) [20:39]
Kristina Fialová (viola)
Igor Ardašev (piano)
rec. April-May 2016, St Laurentius Church, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU4211-2 [61:27]

This quartet of Czech viola works – three sonatas and a suite – includes two world premiere recordings in the form of the sonatas by Kalabis and Feld. The violist is Kristina Fialová, whom I last encountered a couple of years ago or so in a solo viola disc for Arco Diva (see review) and here continues her thoughtful programming in her association with pianist Igor Ardašev, himself a conspicuously excellent exponent of the Czech piano repertoire. Both are Moravian and studied in Brno.

Kalabis wrote his sonata in 1997 and it’s cast in one movement, conventionally sub-divided into three sections. Balancing urgency and lyricism it’s crafted with Kalabis’s accustomed skill and reveals audible signs of Martinů’s lineage: Kalabis was for a number of years President of the Bohuslav Martinů Foundation. With strong contrasts and packed with dynamic verticality, deft colour and birdsong in the piano’s treble this invigorating work is heard to real advantage in this excellent premiere recording. Whereas Kalabis wrote his sonata in his 70s, his near-contemporary Jindřich Feld’s sonata was an early work and his first for viola. Incidentally it was composed in the same year as Martinů’s. It’s unashamedly chromatic but has a wistful, melancholic, veiled element too and a mature confidence in giving space to phrases. If introspection can be expected in the Adagio it’s executed with grace, whilst the finale is tautly accented and exciting. Feld, a violinist and violist, was to return to composing for the latter over the years but his earliest works show how unpretentiously idiomatic was his writing for the instrument in the mid-50s.

Martinů’s sonata doesn’t receive as many recordings as it clearly merits, which makes its contextualizing here the more welcome. Written for Lilian Fuchs, who never recorded it, it’s a work that conjoins nostalgia and ecstasy in a bipartite structure. Full of memorable themes and characteristic rhythmic vitality – he was an erstwhile string player, like Feld – Martinů seems to reach back, in the second movement Allegro to evoke, briefly, Janáček-like figures. Fialová and Ardašev, who is fortunately right up there in the balance, play this well. But I’d prefer Rysanov on BIS-2030 in this work; his tone is fuller and richer – Fialová sounds a little hoarse as the sonata starts – and he pursues the expressive crevices more in the Poco Andante, his rhythms biting harder in the Allegro. Fialová is the more stoical guide and less effusive throughout.

Karel Husa was still alive when Supraphon’s disc was published. His Suite dates from 1945 and is therefore comfortably the earliest work here. His Op.5 was written when he was in his early 20s and encompasses an airy freedom in its opening movement, a darker lyricism in the central Moderato, which almost embraces the threnodic, before ending with a wry march. Perhaps he preferred the title Suite to sonata because of its compact size but in fact it functions nicely as a sonata.

The Jiří Gemrot-Ondřej Urban recording team has done excellent work in St Laurentius Church whilst Jiří Hlaváč has written the excellent notes for this fine disc.

Jonathan Woolf



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