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Eugen SUCHOŇ (1908-1993)
Complete Works for Piano 1928-1984
Ladislav Fanzowitz, Jordana Palovičová, Jakub Čižmarovič, Tomáš Nemec,
Zuzana Biščáková, Mayuko Kida Takine, Petra Pogády, Eduard Lenner,
Norbert Daniš, Adam Stráňavský, Peter Šandor, Martin Chudada (pianos)
Bernadetta Šuňavská (organ)
rec. 2017, Dvorana Concert Hall, Academy of Performing Arts, Bratislava; Concert Hall of Slovak Radio, Bratislava; Fatra House of Arts, Žilina, Slovakia
SOZA BIEM R1970003-2-3 [4 CDs: 276:07]

The twentieth century saw Slovakian classical music dominated by a triumvirate of composers of whom Eugen Suchoň was regarded by many as the most important. The other two were Alexander Moyzes (1906-1984) and Jan Cikker (1911-1989). All were graduates of the Prague Conservatoire, where they were nurtured under the inspirational direction of Vítězslav Novák.

Suchoň was fortunate in being born into a musical family, where both parents were accomplished keyboard players and teachers, his father of organ, his mother of piano. Young Eugen received his first piano tuition from his mother. At the age of twelve Frico Kafenda took over his teaching at the newly established Academy of Music in Bratislava.  This was followed in 1931 by two years at the Prague Conservatoire, where  Novák applied the finishing touches. Suchoň’s first job was teaching music theory at the Academy of Music and Drama in Bratislava. In 1949, his opera Krútňava (‘The Whirlpool’) brought him to international attention. Ten years later he wrote his second opera Kraľ Svätopluk ("King Svätopluk"). Aside from composing, most of his life was spent teaching in Bratislava. In addition to opera, his music includes symphonic, concertante, chamber, vocal and piano works. He was regarded as the father-figure of Slovak music, influencing the younger generation of composers who came after him. Over the years his style of composition changed as he began to embrace serialism.

Peter Štilicha’s liner essay rightly proclaims this set “as an act of great historical and cultural importance”. It was timed to coincide with the 110th anniversary of the composer’s birth, and presents the most comprehensive collection of the composer’s piano works on CD to date. The notes refer to Klára Havlíková, a Slovak pianist, who championed Suchoň’s music both at home and abroad and recorded it in its entirety. Her recordings are scattered around on LPs and CDs on the Supraphon and Opus labels, and no attempt has been made to collate them. This new collection brings all the piano music together on CD for the first time, and includes premieres of the piano arrangement of the Serenade, for instance, and an arrangement for piano and organ of the Symphonic Fantasia on B-A-C-H for organ, piano and percussion, Op. 21, so it’s more wide-ranging. This anniversary collection presents the music chronologically. This allows the listener to follow the development of the composer’s musical language and style. It also showcases the country’s home-grown pianistic talents of the young and middle generation, offering a contemporary perspective.

CD 1 opens with the Adagio in G minor of 1928, a wistfully seductive miniature, bearing testimony to the young composer’s adept compositional skills. Oozing lyricism and lushly romantic, it won’t fail to win you over. Fast forward seven years and we have the Balladic Suite, Op. 9 (1935/6). Suchoň had come on leaps and bounds in the intervening time. The four-movement Suite opens with all guns blazing, with high end virtuosity called for. A tender Adagio follows. Then comes a scurrying scherzo-like movement, preceding a Largo, con malinconia finale bathed in pathos. The work won the composer international recognition, and he later went on to orchestrate it.

CD 2 houses Images from Slovakia, six cycles dating from 1954-55. The first three make use of folk music, left almost untouched. Teeny-Weeny Me, described as a “little folk suite for children” has a guileless simplicity and charm, and is well within the technical capabilities of its targeted audience. The Sonatina incorporates military songs and is on a more sophisticated level. The Mountains Suite and Sonata rustica require an accomplished technique. The former has a spellbinding central ‘Nocturne’ which emits some luminous sonorities. Halfway through, Suchoň ups the rhetoric with opulent waves of cascading notes. Towards the end the music surrenders to quiet and calm.

CD 3 focuses on the next large-scale piano cycle Kaleidoscope, composed in the late 1960s. It is divided into six parts, each having separate movements. Four of the parts pay tribute to composers who have influenced Suchoň, namely Debussy, Suk,  Bartók and Scriabin. The whole cycle is compositionally more advanced than what went before. Suchoň was now using the twelve-tone technique, controlled improvisation and aleatory effects. The two short pieces that open CD 4, Toccata and Elegy, the composer added to Kaleidoscope, intending them to act as a form of epilogue. Toccata (1973) impresses with its busy figurations and virtuosic runs, interspersed with brutal declamatory chords. Elegy (1978) was the composer’s last original piece for the piano and serves as a quiet leave-taking; it sounds like something Webern could have penned.

As a bonus, we are offered the World premiere of an organ and piano arrangement of the Symphonic Fantasia on B-A-C-H for organ, piano and percussion, Op. 21 (1972), courtesy of the composer and Albert Sebestyén. It’s a monumental score guaranteed to impress. I was amazed by the organ contribution, which sounds like a full orchestra at times. The two instruments blend well together in a canvas displaying many moods from glowing tranquillity to coruscating fireworks.

The music was recorded in three venues over the course of 2017, and the sound quality in each case is first class. The 4 CDs come in a sturdy box with an excellent booklet in Slovakian with English translation. In addition to a discussion of the music, there are biographical portraits of the participating artists. Beautifully reproduced photographs are the icing on the cake.

This project has been a true labour of love.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [72:05]
Adagio in G Minor (1928), Mayuko Kida Takine,
Little Suite with Passacaglia, Op. 3 (1931-1932), Ladislav Fanzowitz,
Balladic Suite, Op. 9 (1935-1936), Ladislav Fanzowitz
Lullaby (1950-1984), Jordana Palovičová
Metamorphoses (1951-1953), Jakub Čižmarovič,

CD 2 [57:06]
Images from Slovakia (1954-1955),
Teeny-Weeny Me, Martin Chudada
The Wolf Pack, Peter Šandor
A Falcon Flew Over, Eduard Lenner,
Sonatina, Norbert Daniš
The Mountains Suite (Dedicated to the memory of Vitězslav Novák), Adam Stráňavský Sonata rustica, Ladislav Fanzowitz,

CD 3 [70:08]
Kaleidoscope, piano cycle (1966-1696)
Two Preludes in Olden Style (in memory of Claude Debussy), Tomáš Nemec
Three Romantic Compositions (in memory of Josef Suk), Jordana Palovičová
Meditation and Dance (in memory of Béla Bartók), Ladislav Fanzowitz
Three Movements from Contemplations (in memory of the heroes of The Slovak National Uprising), Zuzana Biščáková
Intermezzi (in memory of Alexander N. Scriabin), Jakub Čižmarovič
Impromptu with Variations and Finale (for the young Slovak compositional generation), Adam Stráňavský

CD 4 [76:48]
Toccata (1973), Mayuko Kida Takine
Elegy (1978), Petra Hollaender-Pogády
‘Wedding Dance’ from the Opera Katrena for Piano (1984), Petra Hollaender-Pogády Serenade for Piano, Op. 5 (1932-1933) / world premiere of the piano version (arrangement for piano - Rudolf Pepucha, Ladislav Fanzowitz) (2017), Ladislav Fanzowitz
Rhapsodic Suite for Two Pianos, Op. 20 (1965) (first recording of this version), Jordana Palovičová, Zuzana Biščáková,
World premiere: Symphonic Fantasia on B-A-C-H for organ, piano and percussion, Op. 21 (1972) (arrangement for organ and piano: Albert Sebestyén and Eugen Suchoň), Bernadetta Šuňavská (organ), Tomáš Nemec (piano)

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