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Jakub Jan RYBA (1765-1815)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in C major, N 542 [38:25]
Concerto for Horn and Orchestra in E-flat major, N 541 [11:20]
Cassatia in C, N 540 [16:24]
Eduard Šístek (cello), Radek Baborák (French horn)
L’Armonia Terrena/Zdeněk Klauda
rec. 8-10 June 2020, Studio Domovina, Prague, Czechia
NIBIRU 01692231 [65:50]

Jakub Jan Ryba, the Czech composer, musician, philosopher, poet and teacher, is little known outside his homeland. His reputation may be solely down to his pastoral Czech Christmas Mass Hej, mistře! (Hail, Master!), a joy from beginning to end, and a real antidote to the annual helping of Christmas carols. A friend introduced me to it on the classic 1966 Supraphon recording (SU36582), and I have played it regularly not only at Christmas. Most of Ryba’s other music – some thirty-eight concertos, thirty-five symphonies and thirty-five serenades on a list of around 1400 works – has been lost. There are precious few recordings, so this disc is most welcome.

There are two of Ryba’s five remaining concertos here, and the only surviving cassation or serenade. The music is bright and tuneful. The Cello Concerto in C from 1800, quite demanding, is known to have been his longest orchestral work. The first movement alone lasts over twenty-one minutes. Its opening recitative emphasises the vocal qualities of the cello, and things get more dramatic as the movement progresses. Ryba’s first love was the violin (he used to sleep cuddling one when he was a child) but he also learned the cello. This work shows a great deal of passion and understanding of the instrument’s capabilities. The lyrical, relaxed second movement Adagio, quite lovely, has the feel of a song without words. The cello holds a nice line whilst the woodwinds make some telling interjections. The final Rondo - Allegretto brings the work to a rousing and sparkling conclusion. Elements of Czech folk music and the alla hongrois trend of the day add a light-hearted, almost humorous feel. Eduard Šístek is asked to play towards to top range of the cello’s register. He does it with ease, and he provides the cadenzas which fit well with the music around it. This splendid cello concerto deserves more recognition.

The Concerto in Dis a cornu principale, for French horn and orchestra, is altogether different in scale. Its two movements clock in at around half the length of the first movement of the cello concerto. This is a compact work for moderately small forces. No full autograph score is available; the parts present in it probably date from Ryba’s student days in Prague. Conductor Zdeněk Klauda had to complete it, not that one would notice because the new parts fit in well. The slow Adagio molto is a model of grace and control, and it could be a ‘Nocturn’ as the booklet notes describe it. The Rondo is more complex, rustic in nature, and calls for the soloist’s greater dexterity. I am somehow reminded of Mozart’s writings for the instrument. We are told that Ryba was very fond of the horn, and he employed it in all his orchestral writing, although he was writing for a natural horn. Radek Baborák plays a modern French horn, and has composed the cadenzas to fit with his fine performance.

The Cassatia in C is composed for an orchestra small in comparison with the concertos. This highly melodic work dates from before 1800. The six movements offer contrasting dance-like sections; some elements also remind me of the Czech Christmas Mass. As attractive as in the concertos, the music is bright and colourful. It is a vehicle for orchestral sections and soloists to make their presence felt. The listener has to wonder what treasures lay amongst the lost thirty-four serenades, if this charming and engaging work is anything to go by.

L’Armonia Terrena conducted by Zdeněk Klauda are very good indeed. It is their third disc of Ryba’s music on Nibiru: there is a Stabat Mater (01622231) and a Missa Solemnis (01682231). The playing is crisp and clear, and the pleasing acoustics help, especially in the two concertos when Eduard Šístek and Radek Baborák join the proceedings. The booklet notes, most helpful, fill one’s gaps in the knowledge of the composer and explain the music in detail. This is a highly recommended disc, a must for all fans of Czech music, and of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century music in general.

Stuart Sillitoe



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