This is an affable collection of pieces for small orchestra in a warmly close
recording without the intimidating edge of, say, a mid-1960s CBS tape.
The Slovak Suite opens in innocence with a Respighian reverential
intensity from which a Nutcracker-like vivace flits. In the central adagio
an amorous couple walk through the fields on a warm evening. The country
musicians are joined by hectic tumblers and jugglers. At Night returns
to lovesick wanderings on a summer night with moonlit enchantment typical
of Delius and Schoeck.
Novak's love of the human voice is reflected in an extensive selection of
song cycles with orchestra. These are, only now, being explored by ClassicO
(Douglas Bostock) and Supraphon. The present cycle is undoubtedly impressive
with a slow blooming power well lit in this performance. A harp floats in
contentment with hardly a cloud in the darkling sky suggesting a walk to
someone's moonlit Paradise Garden. The cycle prompts parallels with similar
orchestral songs by Sibelius, Marek, Bantock and Delius. Novak is a master
of operatic shimmering invention. The sense of theatre is also present. The
devastating spoken word 'zhasne' (fades) is an audacious touch in the second
song. Impressionistic songs for the explorer.
The rather longwinded and ordinary Serenade is given a benevolent
performance but remains fairly earthbound for most of the time. It is like
a hundred other nationalist suites or serenades (e.g. Ludolf Nielsen's suites).
The first allegro non troppo is Straussian and distinctly weaker in
invention. Had Bernard Herrmann seen the score before writing the long theme
from Marnie, I wonder? The allegretto is a stately dance with Iberian
features; a sinewy and snappy little dance reminiscent of Massenet. The
andante tranquilo (a mood Novak was good at) moves into the final
lento in a burst of woodland Mendelssohnian elfin brightness. It ends
not in triumph but, bravely, in calm. Not riveting.
Both Suk and Novak were pupils of Dvorak. Novak remained a lifelong close
friend of Suk.
The sound quality is excellent. The production values are luxurious and the
notes are presented in four languages: Czech, English, German, French); a
beguilingly designed 36 pp booklet.