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Viktor KALABIS (1923-2006)
The Complete Piano Works
Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 2 (1947) [14:38]
Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 4 (1948) [20:04]
Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 58 (1982) [20:16]
Accents, Op. 26 (1967) [17:33]
Entrata, aria e toccata, Op. 41 (1975) [10:02]
Three Polkas, Op. 52 (1979) [12:50]
Four Enigmas for Graham, Op. 71 (1989) [13:18]
Two Toccatas, Op. 88 (1999) [9:20]
Allegro impetuoso, Op. 89 (1999) [5:43]
Ivo Kahánek (piano)
rec. 2016-18, Martinů Hall of the Music and Dance Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU4259-2 [55:10 + 69:18]

Viktor Kalabis’ early musical development, as with many others, was punctured by the War, and when he eventually embarked on a sequence of works his compositional freedom was limited by the political ideology that plagued Czechoslovak life for so many decades. His personalised musical language in the late 1940s embraced quite a variety of influences but are crystallised in the solo piano music, all of which is contained in this 2-CD set that traces Kalabis from 1947 to the competition works of 1999.

Clearly the three sonatas will be a focus of interest. The first two are early, dating from 1947-48, and reveal an accommodation with neo-classicism in their tautness and recourse to chorale-like funereal music. The First is the more conventionally structured, with an appealing and driving finale, but the Second has its own compelling features, not least refracted Bachian moments and the sense of built-in rubato that is conveyed, not least in this conspicuously fine performance from one of the Czech lands’ great contemporary pianists. The Third Sonata dates from 1982 and reprises the bipartite structure of the much earlier second sonata. The opening movement is limpid and spare, fully sustained over eight minutes whilst there a terse but occasionally eruptive quality to the second and final movement; these brusque alternations motoring the music ever onwards.

The movement in the sonatas from neo-classicism to a more complete and complex aesthetic is measured over a period of decades. The other works are reflective of other influences and enthusiasms. The eight brief movements that comprise Accents are lighter in tone than the sonatas; darting, fluid, rolling and more overtly expressive, notably in the searching and austerely beautiful Andante. Harmonies in Accents are more unambiguous, and open. Kalabis returned to the medium of the solo piano eight years later with Entrata, Aria e Toccata that reveals again his ability to draw together idioms in a harmonious way. The baroque form of the piece allows him to deploy playful vitality in the outer movements and a refinement of spirit in the central Aria. The three Polkas pay tribute to the genre and endorse its athleticism, but they are also puckish. It’s the last of the three that conjures up the spirit of one of Kalabis’ great predecessors, Martinů, the president of whose foundation Kalabis was later, and rightly, to become.

The Four Enigmas for Graham was written in 1989 for Graham Melville-Mason, whose death was announced very recently. The more extrovert and colour-conscious writing reflects a relaxation of feeling, a broadening of confidence. The music embraces wit and jollity; lively and communicative, and is a fitting tribute to Melville-Mason, who did so much for Czech and Slovak music in Britain, and beyond. The final pieces are occasional ones. The Two Toccatas were written as test pieces for the Carl Czerny International Piano Competition and serve the purpose well. So too was the Allegro Impetuoso but it makes a bigger impression because of its dynamism, flair and forthright Martinů-like cadences.

The expertly judged recording and attractive booklet notes complement Ivo Kahánek’s deeply sympathetic and astute performances, ones that measure up in every way to the music.

Jonathan Woolf

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