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Alla Zingarese
Civitas Ensemble and Gipsy Way Ensembles
rec. 2017, Chicago Recording Company and Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago
CEDILLE CDR90000179 [46:33 + 41:38]

Pavel Šporcl founded Gipsy Way many years ago and has been championing its sound-world in concert and on disc with great success. Across the Atlantic fellow fiddler Yuan-Quing Yu, now the Assistant Concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony leads the Civitas Ensemble which boasts two other members of the orchestra and Winston Choi, Head of Piano Program at Roosevelt University. The friendship between Šporcl and Yu goes back to the time they met at Southern Methodist University in the 1990s and now it has borne fruit with a joint-ensemble album, two years in the making in Prague and Chicago, that fuses Western classical music and the gypsy muse.

Šporcl’s ensemble is himself, a violist, bassist and cimbalom, whilst Civitas lines up violin, clarinet, cello and piano. For the first disc (of two) the ensembles come together in a fraternal bonding of instrumentation and approach whilst the second disc is all-Civitas.

Six of the seven pieces on the joint ensemble are arranged by Lukáš Sommer. The exception is Šporcl’s Gypsy Fire. It was a good choice to go for Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.1 as more explosive and overtly dramatic ensembles, such as that of Roby Lakatos, for example, tend to prefer Numbers 5 and 6. Serenade Tzigane was composed by one of the great classically trained Gypsy players of pre-war days, Georges Boulanger (very much not his real name – he was a Romanian, born George Pantazi) who had studied with Leopold Auer. Sommer has stuck close to the 1938 Parlophone recording Boulanger made – or else has consulted a score – but not even Šporcl, tremendous though he is, can replicate the quivering intensity Boulanger drew from his fiddle. The deployment of piano and clarinet, however, work well. The cimbalom is most apparent, appropriately, in the Hubay Czardas, a fast, vivid piece well performed. Šporcl’s tone turns more fervid on the Sarasate, where the cello line is also an important voice to be heard. Sommer’s own Gipsy Odyssey has some raunchy exchanges between instrumentalists but it’s Šporcl’s own Gipsy Fire that demonstrates the utility of the genre best. This smoky, combustible piece sports some Paganinian cum Sarasatean fireworks in its bravura soloing and gets ever more exciting and technically exacting.

The repertoire is nicely varied when Civitas strike out alone. I’ve reviewed Sylvia Bodorová’s Dža More twice before, both times on Arco Diva – Miroslav Ambroš played it passionately in a mixed recital and, in its viola incarnation, Kristina Fialová did it equal justice. Yuan-Quing Yu is certainly up to its stylistic and technical demands. Sommer has written Cigi-Civi for the Civitas Ensemble, cannily establishing a sequence of rhythmically varied paragraphs. The performance of Weiner’s Peregi Verbunk for clarinet and piano is excellent and refined. The Popper Hungarian Rhapsody is a bit of an evergreen, but its mix of sentiment and bravura is welcome nonetheless. The arrangement of Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1 – one of Stokowski’s favourites – is by Cliff Colnot and effective.

This is an enjoyable meeting of musical minds though if left to his own devices I daresay the Šporcl component would have felt somewhat less constrained than it sometimes does. Doubtless compromises were necessary. That said, there’s plenty of fire and a little brimstone, too, in this gatefold selection.

Jonathan Woolf

Disc contents
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) arr. Lukáš SOMMER
Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G minor [3:33]
Rondo alla Zingarese [8:14]
Georges BOULANGER (1893-1958) arr. Lukáš SOMMER
Sérénade Tzigane [2:48]
Jenő HUBAY (1858-1937) arr. Pavel ŠPORCL and Lukáš SOMMER
“Hullámzó Balaton,” Scčne de la Csárda No. 5, Op. 33 [7:13]
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908) arr. Lukáš SOMMER
Zigeunerweisen [9:35]
Lukáš SOMMER (b.1984)
Gipsy Odyssey [5:14]
Pavel ŠPORCL (b.1973)
Gipsy Fire [9:21]
Sylvie BORODOVÁ (b.1954)
Dža More for Solo Violin [5:15]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C- sharp minor [10:30]
Cigi-Civi [3:47]
Leó WEINER (1885-1960)
Peregi Verbunk for Clarinet and Piano [5:53]
David POPPER (1843-1913)
Hungarian Rhapsody, Op. 68 for Cello and Piano [8:20]
George ENESCU (1881-1955) arr Cliff COLNOT
Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 [7:21]

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