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Vítězslava Kaprálová (1915-1940)
La Vita
Three Piano Pieces, Op.9 (1935)
April Preludes, Op.13 (1937)
Little Song (1936)
Five Piano Compositions (1931-32)
Dance for Piano, Op.23 (1940) reconstr/arr. Girogio Koukl
Variations sur le Carillon de l’église St-Étienne-du-Mont, Op.16 (1938)
Sonata Appassionata, Op.6 (1933)
Two Bouquets of Flowers (1935)
Leonie Karatas (piano)
rec. 2021, Mount of Olives Church, Berlin
EUROARTS 2069107 [70]

This new release comes into direct competition with Giorgio Koukl’s survey of Vítězslava Kaprálová’s complete solo piano music on Grand Piano GP708 (review). Whilst there are other discs that certainly include some of the pieces on this one, these two now represent a credible consumer choice for those curious about the short-lived Czech composer. Which to go for?

There is certainly enough interpretative water between the two pianists for the choice to be viable. The Op.9 set includes the droll ‘Crab Canon’ and a Scherzo Passacaglia, which Koukl takes at a much faster tempo than Leonie Karatas with the result that it is lighter, necessarily fleeter, but also more directional. There is a risk, at her tempo, of the music sagging into paragraphal contrasts and sounding haphazard, a danger she doesn’t entirely skirt. April Preludes, Op.13 is a set of four varied and charming pieces in which, once again, and at crucial moments, Karatas’s affection for the music – such as the second, an Andante – lures her into making an eruptive contrast whereas a quicker, more regular pulse might have mitigated the need for it.

Attractive though her performances are, and clearly attuned though she is to the composer’s sensibility – which is never static and inert, and always alert and alive – there are too many times when I think she misjudges tempo. Whilst this is clearly an individual matter and a question of preference Koukl simply makes more syntactical and grammatical sense of the melody line of the first of the Five Piano Compositions, a Maestoso in which it’s imperative to hear the nobility of the line. The same applies to the Alla marcia funebre, the final piece in which he is a full two minutes quicker at 6:15. Clearly convinced by her tempo though she is, Koukl’s greater urgency emphasises the music’s funereal nature that much more insistently.

Two of Kaprálová’s most convincing piano works are the Carillon variations or to give it its full name, the Variations sur le Carillon de l’église St-Étienne-du-Mont, Op.16, and the Sonata Appassionata, Op.6. The former is finely done here, sensitively shaped and quite incisively performed. The central etude vivo is especially well done. The Sonata offers more challenges interpretatively and she meets the challenges well. The Scherzando second variation of the Sonata is fine, crisply characterised and so is the darting fugato. These are both convincing, well-balanced performances. The Two Bouquets are charming slivers, the Little Song offers no great challenge, being a sweet effusion and Koukl’s own reconstruction and arrangement of the Dance for Piano is, not surprisingly, taken at almost exactly the same tempo as Koukl’s own recording.

Don’t forget that Virginia Eskin recorded many of these pieces, finely, on Koch KIC-CD-7742 back in 2007 and that Jaroslav Smýkal recorded April Preludes on Matouš MK0049-2011.

The recording is good – clear, and clean. The notes could be more comprehensive but they’re certainly nothing to complain about. Oddly in the two biggest challenges Karatas is fine. It’s only in the characteristic pieces, the smaller canvasses, that she fails, sometimes, to bind the music. Overall, if you must choose, Koukl must have the palm. He has come to the music via less well-known composers and an extensive series on Naxos devoted to Kaprálová’s erstwhile teacher and lover, Martinů, which has given him a fine vantage point on the music’s instability and energy.

Jonathan Woolf

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