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VITEZSLAV NOVAK 1870-1949 Slovak Suite (1903)  Melancholic Songs of Love (1906) * Serenade (1894)   * Jana Tetourova (soprano) Prague Chamber PO/Jiri Behlolavek recorded Prague 14-15 Feb, 17-18 April 1998 SUPRAPHON SU 3372-2 931 [76:32]



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.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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