Fibich is the lesser known of the nationalist Czech composers writing in
the latter part of the 19th Century yet his music is as colourful, melodic
and passionate as any works by his compatriots Dvorák and Smetana.
It is full of joie-de -vivre. Fibich was a generation younger than
Smetana and nine years younger than Dvorák. His music is neither firmly
Germanic or overtly nationalistic Czech, but it embraces both influences
in equal measure.
Composition of the First Symphony in F Major commenced while the composer
was still at Leipzig Conservatory in 1877 but it was not performed until
1883. The work is genial and brims with sparkling melodies. One quickly notices
that Fibich prefers to write faster music and Maestro Järvi propels
the music strongly forward. The first movement is considerable, lasting some
15 minutes. Another Fibich device that one soon notices is his predilection
for sequences (favoured also by Elgar - and in places, in these symphonies,
Fibich's music does sound very Elgarian). The music is also very well constructed
and balanced so that one's ears are captivated by the sheer elegance of its
ebb and flow. There is a fresh out-of-doors feel about it too - one can imagine
Alpine pastures (the CD booklet cover illustration is therefore apt) and
village celebrations with folk dancing. The fast and furious second movement
continues this celebration with lively folk music spiced with quasi-fugal
elements. The third Adagio movement begins as though it is a dignified and
refined minuet before there are darker musings in the lower strings with
self-important commentary by the brass. This is a more deeply felt movement,
contrapuntally rich with impressive writing for divided strings and passionate
climaxes. The finale returns to faster material but more moods are explored.
The music is strong, confident, assertive; and there is more of a feeling
of national pride. Some of the material echoes folk melodies used by Smetana
Fibich's Second and Third Symphonies are amongst his finest works and both
were written at the time of his affair with one of his pupils - the talented
but headstrong Anezka Schulzová, and the music seems to celebrate
the union. Earlier, Fibich's first wife had died and he married one of her
sister's only to abandon her and his children in favour of Schulzová.
From 1892 to 1899 he kept a musical diary charting his affair in the form
of piano Moods, Impressions and Reminiscences (a selection of which is available
on CHANDOS 9381). Melodies from this huge collection informed much of the
music of Fibich's last years. Some of these melodies are heard in the
Symphony No 2 in E flat major which begins in a grand sweeping, almost
Brucknerian manner before the music swells passionately and becomes rather
more Brahmsian. Gentler music follows which is juxtapositioned with more
relentless cantering figures that suggest a hunting scene - Fibich pursuing
his ideal? The prevailing mood is of elation and good humour. The early part
of the Adagio is very beautiful - reminiscent of both Brahms and, very strongly,
of Elgar with particularly appealing mid-lower string writing. The central
section of the movement returns to folk material - contrasting the hesitant
with the emphatic; darker material adding a wider perspective. Trumpets herald
the Scherzo and & Trio: Presto movement - another light-hearted, high
spirited piece pausing midway for a more introspective slow dance but in
the main it just bounces and bubbles along. The finale opens vigorously with
a very infectious melody, and it dances along but pauses to include slower,
more graceful, feminine material and ardent, yearningly romantic themes along
the way. Heart-on-sleeve music devotees will wallow in this symphony.
The Symphony No 3 in E minor is written from the heart too but instead
of treating it as a thematically unified cycle, Fibich progresses from minor
to major - from (relative) darkness to light. Indeed the music, this time,
has a Mahlerian feel about it. It begins mysteriously and a little menacingly
but it is impossible to repress Fibich for long and the music soon bubbles
along. Happier, swiftly paced, dotted rhythms usher in more lyrical and warmly
romantic material yet small clouds persist in the background. Larger, grander,
more nationalistic issues are also covered. The second Allegro movement has
another stately opening and a dialogue between dictatorial strings and pleading
woodwinds ensues. There is the beginnings of what one feels would have been
a glorious Brahmsian heart-felt theme which is left frustratingly undeveloped.
Again Elgar's nobilmente writing comes to mind in this lovely movement. Once
more, I was taken with the wonderfully balanced polytonal writing and beautifully
symmetrical structure. The Scherzo & Trio: Vivo e grazioso third movement
is an untroubled and sunny Mendelssohnian dance with some interesting effects.
The finale returns to the mood of the first movement with another dark, eerie,
brooding opening but again Fibich soon asserts more optimistic and heroic
material. There are surging romantic melodies aplenty and this marvellous
cycle of symphonies ends in glorious affirmation.
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra give virtuoso readings of all three symphonies
which are recorded in Chandos's best sound.