FOERSTER / MARTINŮ / NOVÁK
Prague Philharmonia, conducted by
"Three delightful cello concertos, beautifully performed and recorded."
"Swinging" cello concertos aren’t exactly thick on the ground, which makes Jan Novák’s Capriccio (1958-59) a particular delight, what with its saucy clarinets and saxophones and its lightly percussive ostinatos. It starts like Twenties Show music, goes gently tiptoe for a 12-tone second movement then jives away happily for the closing Allegro, with "Lennie" and "Igor" never out of earshot for too long. Midway between the high jinks of Novák’s Capriccio and the more formal expressive qualities of Foerster’s Concerto comes the thrice-revised First Cello Concerto of
Josef Bohuslav Foerster’s Concerto of 1931 is the earliest of the works programmed, as well as the most intense and the most obviously rooted in tradition (think of, for example, Dvořák and Suk). The work’s heart is again its slow movement, where meaningful dialogue with other solo strings is so effective, the music often rather reminiscent of Chausson. I was amazed to learn that this is the work’s world premiere recording.
I’ve delayed mentioning
THREE FRAGMENTS FROM THE OPERA JULIETTE / EXCERPTS FROM THE REVIEWS
Magdalena Kožená is magnificent as the volatile Julietta and is excellently matched by Steve Davislim’s Michel. Davislim is also terrific in the opera’s almost unbearably poignant finale. Along with three orchestral excerpts, including the opera’s prelude, these fragments provide a fitting tribute to Mackerras’s profound understanding of Martinů’s musical character.
BBC Music Magazine, June 2009
Mackerras directs a wonderful performance and while Kožená sings the title-role beautifully she is in excellent company. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra play superbly throughout, not least in the sensible coupling of Zbyněk Vostřák’s expert arrangement of three of Julietta’s orchestral episodes. I cannot recommend this scintillating disc highly enough.
Gramophone, June 2009
An outstanding Martinu anniversary issue.
Sunday Times, June 7, 2009: CD of the Week
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a performance of any part of this score that captures its sheer beauty and fantasy so well.
International Record Review, June 2009
Mit sicherer Hand arbeitet Altmeister
Das Opernglas, Juni 2009
The sure hand of
Das Opernglas, June 2009
Fono Forum, Juli 2009
Fono Forum, July 2009
BOHUSLAV MARTINU Piano Sonata
MILOSLAV KABELÁČ Eight Preludes Op. 30
Ivo Kahánek (piano)
Supraphon - 3945-2 (CD)
Reference Recording - Sonatas: Firkusny (DG and RCA)
Supraphon has hit on an excellent programming concept: combine well-known Czech works with equally rewarding unfamiliar pieces. And when the performances are as fine as these, the result adds up to much more than the sum of its parts. Janácek's sole piano sonata (or what's left of it, a third movement was destroyed) is well known and wholly representative of his quirky idiom. Ivo Kahánek plays it beautifully (and his instrument, a Petrof, has a particularly warm, attractive tone). He's particularly adept at catching the music's spontaneity--in the first movement especially--while still effectively shaping the larger paragraphs. Other versions might have more eruptive climaxes, but this is just as legitimate and expressively apt. Martinu's sonata is a very late work, composed just after the Sixth Symphony, and it shares something of that piece's fantastic atmosphere. There is no real slow movement, and negotiating the thickets of notes represents a real challenge, one that Kahánek understands and surmounts with ease. But the real find here, and at nearly 30 minutes the largest work on the disc, is Miloslav Kabelác's Eight Preludes, a real masterpiece that ought to be a repertory item for pianists the world over. The music is exquisite, often sparse, but invariably harmonically interesting and effectively structured. The preludes are variously marked: ostinato, meditativo, sognante, corale, notturno, volante, arioso, and impetuoso. Together, they make a magnificent cycle richly varied in mood and expression. Kahánek clearly loves this piece and proves its ideal advocate, whether in the delicate traceries of the "dreaming" third movement, the agitated "corale", or the heroic bell-ringing that characterizes the final number. As an encore, we get three very early (1879-80) keyboard fugues by Janácek, written while he was still a student in Leipzig. Obviously they are not characteristic of his mature work, but they are fun to have all the same. The last of the three is quite a substantial piece--longer than the first movement of the sonata, though hardly as musically interesting. Finally, excellent engineering places the piano in an ideally warm and clear space. A great recital!
David Hurwitz, Classics Today, December 2008
CHOC DU MONDE DE LA MUSIQUE
Bedřich Smetana: My Country
Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
(+ documentary film)
Henryk Szerynk (violin), Czech Philharmonic
1 DVD Supraphon SU 7015-9
Recorded live in 1966 (Beethoven) and 1968 (Smetana) – Length: 124 min. + 31 min. (documentary) – Audio format: PCM – Video format: 4/3 NTSC – Subtitles: English, German, French.
In spite of the fact that the quality of the video is limited by the quality of the Czechoslovak Television material, this documentary is of immeasurable worth. Between segments shot during rehearsals of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, Karel Ančerl (1908–1973) talks about his teachers (Scherchen, Talich) and his artistic opinions, recalling the happiest moments of his life as well as the most painful (his deportation to Terezin and Auschwitz) in his reticent way. Smetana’s cycle of six symphonic poems, My Country is captured at the Prague Spring festival concert of May 12, 1968, mere weeks before the arrival of soviet forces (the politically active playwright Václav Havel was in the audience). This noteworthy rendition emphasizes the piece’s modernity and epic gestures even more than the official 1963 recording (Supraphon CD SU 3661-2). In spite of the shortcomings of the audio recording and visual direction, the conductor’s sober, functional gestures and his bright, transparent and surprisingly balanced interpretation are as evident as the quality of the orchestra, which was one of the best in the world at that time. The Beethoven Concerto in D Major, recorded on May 28, 1966, also at Prague Spring, is different. Henryk Szerynk, who used Kreisler’s cadenza, gives the best performance of this piece in his career, rich in lyricism and shades of expression, and the precise, creative accompaniment is stirring. (The audio recording was released on CD fifteen years ago on the Praga label). This DVD is ideal for discovering Ančerl’s artistry, his synthesis of painstaking work and tremendous imagination.
Patrick Szersnowicz, September 2008
Little of the large output of Josef Bohuslav Foerster (1859-1951) is widely known, yet, as this finely played, splendidly recorded disc demonstrates, he's an enthralling composer. His chromatic, highly expressive harmonic style and sophisticated orchestral writing place him firmly in the company of late Romantics such as Richard Strauss, Elgar and his friend Mahler, but his music, with it's clearly defined phrases and lyrical tone, retains a distinctively Czech character. Sometimes the resemblance to his nationalist forebears is clear - the opening of the first concerto recalls Smetana in passionate mood, and the Andante middle movement of No.2 evokes a Dvorak-like pastoral atmosphere. Foerster differs however in the way he indulges his lyrical gift; in the place of the positive rhythmic drive characteristic of Dvorak and Smetana his tendency is to allow energy to subside into dreamy reverie - often extremely beautiful, but, especially in the long first movement of the First Concerto, weakening the overall impact.
However, Foerster shows real originality. The First Concerto's third movement, a graceful, sensuous waltz with playful, decorative writing for the soloist, is unlike any other violin concerto finale I can think of. Op 104 is a more introspective work, with an unusual but satisfying form. After three or four minutes of what promises to be a mercurial finale, we're suddenly recalled to the sombre surroundings of the first movement, to hear a complete recapitulation, which Foerster had earlier omitted.
Gramophone - October 2008 - Duncan Druce
Written in what might be described as Josef Foerster's "middle maturity" (he died in 1951), these two violin concertos date from the 1910's and 1920s. The gem of the two is the Second, a serious and magnificently lyrical work which achieves heights of eloquence in a superbly sustained slow movement. The first concerto is less striking, with the first movement lacking a strongly memorable initial idea. Much more appealing is the finale which is full of poetry and develops an almost Mahlerian blitheness in its waltz-like sections.
Full marks to
Performance 4/5 - Sound 4/5
BBC Music Magazine - Jan Smaczny
Josef Bohuslav Foerster (1859-1951) is remembered today - if at all - as the composer of the opera Eva (based, like Janacek's Jenufa, on a play by Gabriela Preissova). He also wrote five symphonies, a body of chamber music and three concertos, the two for violin recorded here and one for cello. Foerster was five years younger than Janacek, and his music is a late-Romantic throwback to the eras of Smetana and Dvorak, but with a harmonic sound world influenced by the chromaticism of late Wagner, early Schoenberg and Richard Strauss. If his melodies are not intrinsically memorable, these finely wrought concertos get ideally idiomatic, rhapsodic performances from Zenaty and the BBCSO under Belohlavek.
Sunday Times - Hugh Canning
Josef Bohuslav Foerster (1859-1951) was a contemporary of Gustav Mahler and, like him, was born in Bohemia, then still part of the Austrian Habsburg empire. Yet where Mahler is now unequivocally regarded as an Austrian composer, Foerster's lesser but still significant music is firmly part of a Czech tradition that stretched from Smetana and Dvorak well into the 20th century. Foerster was hugely prolific, a poet and critic as well as a composer, and nowadays his reputation rests largely on his six operas and handful of orchestral works couched in a late romantic style that owes more to Brahms than anyone else. This is claimed as the first complete recording of the two violin concertos, which were completed in 1911 and 1926 respectively. They are intensely lyrical works, mostly conventional in form but gorgeously expansive in the best of their melodic writing. The performances seem beautifully judged, and the soloist Ivan Zenaty has the perfect pure-toned expressiveness the music needs.
The Guardian - Andrew Clements
Haas: String Quartets – No 1, Op. 3; No 3, Op. 15
Janáček: String Quartet No 1 "The Kreutzer Sonata"
Pavel Haas Quartet (Veronika Jarusková, Marie Fuxová – violins, Pavel Nikl – viola, Peter Jarusek – cello)
Supraphon SU 3922-2 (55 min. • DDD)
To describe a CD as musically important is to court a certain level of controversy (there are always other causes lobbying on the sidelines) but I'll stick my neck out and claim extreme importance for this particular release. Its Gramophone Award-winning predecessor coupled the second string quartets of Haas and Janácek, superbly played and including optional percussion in Haas's finale. Haas's Second (subtitled From the Monkey Mountains) is an amazing piece, but I'm tempted to call the Third a masterpiece. It is both more concise and more tautly argued than the Second, less a journey into fantastical realms than an urgent, astringent drama, rhythmically driven (the dissonant opening gestures tear jaggedly across a constant pulse) and intensely heartfelt: the weeping cello at 3'56" into the first movement humbles its colleagues into tearful submission. And no wander, given that the Quartet was composed in 1938 when Haas and his family were already marked for tragedy as part of a racially mixed community where an active Nazi faction was ready to pounce. Haas was destined for Auschwitz (where he was killed in 1944) and although it would be fanciful to read prophecy into the pages of this marvellous and varied work, the candour and emotional unrest that it expresses have inevitable associations. The longest movement is the last, a theme with variations which closes with a brief but pungent fugue and at times seems prophetic of Prokofiev's folk-derived Second Quartet of 1941.The First Quartet (1921) plays for a continuous, action-packed 14 minutes and so impressed Haas's mentor Janácekthat he had it performed. Although less striking than the Third, the First inhabits a similar climate, where temperature and colour shift with a degree of rapidity that suggests Janácek’s influence, though Haas's musical language has a softer edge. In the hands of the Pavel Haas Quartet Janácek’s own powerfully emotive First Quartet positively glows; one cannot but help ponder what Haas himself might have achieved had he too lived to compose at the "ripe old" age of 69! The Haas Quartet negotiate Janácek’s fervid narrative without over-playing the drama, and they obviously relish its novel and occasionally abrasive sound world. It's a very useful coupling, not only musically appropriate but evidence that the Pavel Haas Quartet can cut the mustard as successfully in standard repertoire as in the Haas rarities. This is a superb release that deserves not merely to bask in the reflected glory of its predecessor, but to share in it. The sound is first-rate. Rob Cowan, Gramophone April 2008
Cello Sonata No. 2; Variations on a Theme of Rossini
Cello Sonata Op. 9
Tomáš Jamník (cello);
Supraphon SU 3928-2 (CD)
Reference Recording - None for this coupling
This beautiful disc contains a splendid program of familiar and unfamiliar Czech works for cello and piano. Janáček's Fairy Tale probably is the most popular piece here, and cellist
Both the Martinů and Kabeláč cello sonatas were composed in the same year: 1941. The former's turbulent emotional climate foreshadows some of the darker symphonies to come (such as the Third) and contrasts superbly with Kabeláč's rarely heard work. This piece is quite a discovery, a tightly structured and melodically appealing effort from a very fine composer known almost exclusively for the two orchestral works (Mystery of Time and Hamlet Improvisation) recorded by Ančerl and the Czech Philharmonic. Like the Mystery of Time, the sonata includes a passacaglia, which Kabelác executes with impressive gravity and not a shred of formal stiffness.
Serenade for Strings; Serenade for Winds
Meditation on an Old Czech Christmas Hymn "St. Wenceslas"
Supraphon SU 3932-2 (CD)
Artistic Quality 9/9 Sound Quality
This is Jakub Hrusa's third Supraphon disc of Dvorák's lighter music, and it's by far the best. He captures the string serenade's lyrical flow just about perfectly, whether in the lilting waltz or the uncommonly zippy finale. In the latter, Hrusa's tempo shifts between the two principal subjects are handled very naturally and allow him to enhance the music's expressive point without undue exaggeration. The orchestra also plays very well, with the basses putting a real bottom on the sound (also a benefit in the far more elegiac Suk Meditation that constitutes the program's moving encore).
In the companion work, the incomparable Czech wind tradition reveals itself as alive and well, particularly thanks to those sweet-toned oboes and fruity clarinets. In the opening march, a bit more presence from the bassoons would have been welcome, but aside from this minor point there's very little here to criticize. Hrusa and his players have a great time with the syncopated rhythms in the second movement's central trio, while the long lines of the gorgeous slow movement really do sing. The "village band" episodes in the finale also have great charm, once again at an ideal tempo. Warm sonics complete this very enjoyable release. [2/29/2008] David Hurwitz, www.classicstoday.com
JAKUB HRUSA / Prague Philharmonia
ANTONÍN DVORÁK: American Suite, B190 Op 98b
JOSEF SUK: Scherzo fantastique, Op 25. Serenade, Op 6
Supraphon SU 3882-2 (
Magical Dvorák and delightful Suk from this talented young conductor
Still in his mid-twenties, Jakub Hrusa is a conductor to look out for. A pupil of Jirí Belohlávek, he has built up a formidable career in Europe and
Dvorák’s American Suite can easily seem square and uninspired but Hrusa directs a magical performance. The descending opening phrase immediately brings echoes of a spiritual. It is fresh and rustic-sounding, growing more magnetic as it is repeated in melodic ostinato. The Trio brings a brisk idea like a Slavonic Dance, and the lively second-movement Allegro offers a lyrical Trio. The Moderato third movement echoes a polonaise or pollacca in its light and jaunty dotted rhythms. The fourth movement is a warmly lyrical Nocturne opening with a lovely oboe theme, while the vigorous finale brings folklike accented repeated chords again with oboe prominent, slowing down before a final brisk pay-off.
The two items by Josef Suk are given similarly fresh and inspired performances. Suk was still in his teens and a pupil of Dvorák when in 1892 he completed his Serenade for Strings, and it remains one of his most delightful works. There are many echoes of Dvorák, not least in the long third-movement Adagio; but already Suk was beginning to reveal a distinctive voice, and the writing for strings throughout is astonishingly assured for a teenager.
The Scherzo fantastique is darker and more distinctive, inventive in its contrasted sections, with a swinging episode in triple-time lightening the mood with a waltz-like episode. Again Hrusa’s performance could not be more winning, and the Supraphon recording is full and vivid.
Dvorák, Suk - Violin Works
ANTONIN DVORÁK: Violin Sonata, Op 57 B106. Nocturne, Op 40 B48a. Slavonic Dances (arr Kreisler) – Op 46 No 2; Op 72 Nos 2 & 8
JOSEF SUK: Four Pieces, Op 17
Pavel Sporcl - violin, Petr Jiríkovský - piano
Supraphon SU 3884-2
An exciting virtuoso confirms his Czech credentials in this superb release
Pavel Sporcl has established himself on disc as the most charismatic of young Czech violinists, spontaneously imaginative and individual in everything he does. His recording of Dvorák’s Violin Concerto (Supraphon, 4/04) revealed that supremacy, and here he tackles the Sonata as well as Kreisler’s virtuoso re-creations of three Slavonic Dances. He is partnered by another fine young Czech artist, pianist Petr Jiríkovský, not as individual as Sporcl but offering excellent support.
That link with the Concerto is apt, for Dvorák wrote the Sonata while waiting for Joachim to give the first performance of the Concerto. If initially the balance of the recording seems to favour the violin, Sporcl quickly demonstrates his responsiveness as a partner, playing with delicacy when the piano needs to be given primacy – something one might not expect of such a virtuoso. After his warm account of the first movement Sporcl gives the central Poco sostenuto a spacious, concentrated reading, leading to an infectiously rhythmic account of the finale, much the most Czech-sounding movement.
The Nocturne is better known in Dvorák’s arrangement for string orchestra but his arrangement for violin and piano prompts a hushed and intimate reading. Kreisler made his arrangements of three Slavonic Dances to use as encores. Technically they are more demanding than the originals with plentiful double-stopping for the violin, which Sporcl executes flawlessly.
Suk’s Op 17 Pieces make an apt coupling, written in 1900 before the tragedy of the death of Dvorák’s daughter and Suk’s wife. The second of the four is much the most popular, but all are most attractive, particularly when played as well as here. First-rate sound, recorded in the Rudolfinum in
Edward Greenfield, Gramophone March 2007. www.gramophone.co.uk
ZDENEK TYLSAR - Horn Concertos
R.STRAUSS: Concertos for Horn and Orchestra Nos 1 and 2 (a). F.J.STRAUSS: Concerto for Horn and Orchestra Op. 8. W.A.MOZART: Concertos for Horn and Orchestra No. 2 KV 417 (b).
Jean Cabourg, Diapason, February 2007
BEDRICH SMETANA: Hubicka (The Kiss), opera in 2 acts
L. Cervinková, B. Blachut, M. Krásová, P. Kocí, K. Kalas, S. Petrová, V. Jedenáctík / Orchestra and Chorus of the National Theater Opera in Prague, conductor Z. Chalabala
Recorded in 1952, available for the first time on CD
Supraphon SU 3878-2
Un si doux baiser
...sachez que vous entendrez ici des beautés inconnues ailleurs et que l'âge de l'enregistrement n'est en rien un handicap, grâce a un remarquable travail de restauration.
...know that you are listening here to unknown beauty and that the age of the recording is absolutely no handicap, thanks to a perfect job of restauration.
Laurent Marty, www.resmusica.com, January 19, 2007
DMITRY SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphonies No. 1-15
MAXIM SHOSTAKOVICH / Prague Symphony Orchestra
Supraphon SU 3890-2, 10 CD
Artstic Quality 9 / Sound Quality 9
Stravinsky said that he thought it was important to record his own music so that future generations will know how it should be played, even if others might conduct it better from a technical point of view, or have better orchestras at their disposal. This thought comes to mind listening to this set, but it wasn't something to be taken for granted. Obviously, Maxim Shostakovich is not the composer, however close he may have been to him. Beyond that, although he recorded excellent versions of the Fifth and Fifteenth Symphonies for Melodiya (only the former generally available on CD), he also made some really boring, rhythmically flaccid, indifferently played versions of the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies for Collins Classics.
Soon after that, however, Maxim began this series in Prague, much more promisingly. Some of these performances, at least Symphonies Nos. 4, 5, 6, and 13, were released previously, and they are all excellent (even with that extra bar in the coda of the Fifth, a curiosity that seems to pop up now and then). These are all live recordings, and the sense of occasion is palpable, even when there are moments of iffy ensemble (the end of the Eleventh, the big climax in the finale of the Eighth). In all honesty, the Prague Symphony is not in the league of the Czech Philharmonic--or the various orchestras that Jansons has in his complete set, or (obviously) Haitink's Concertgebouw. The horns in particular have a watery vibrato that will make some listeners cringe, even though they play very well when it comes to hitting the right notes.
Indeed, once you get past the big horn solos in, say, the third movement of the Tenth or the first-movement development of the Eighth, you will find that the ensemble has a sound you might well describe as "authentic" in any number of ways. Its unblended sonority permits maximum clarity, rhythms are unusually sharp, and the woodwinds are amazing. Listen to the squealing clarinets in the slow movement of the Seventh (an outstanding performance all around, with hugely impressive outer movements and a really swift, exciting scherzo), or to the gibbering insanity in the Tenth's "portrait of Stalin" second movement. It's also great to have Maxim Shostakovich's take on the Fifteenth, a work that he premiered and one that he plays with sovereign authority. Consider, for example, his ability to find the perfect tempo for the finale's coda, beautifully poised between eerie disquiet and cool tranquility.
The bottom line is that Shostakovich the conductor doesn't put a foot wrong anywhere. There's nothing controversial here, no extremes of fast or slow, no exaggerating the dark and miserable--but there's also no underplaying of the music's intensity. Shostakovich catches the flow of each piece, finding a balanced and unusually rich range of expression on both the happy and sad sides of the emotional ledger. The First and Ninth Symphonies, so often dour in the hands of conductors who refuse to believe that this composer could ever indulge in genuine humor, emerge with plenty of personality and with a real sense of fun. The much maligned Twelfth has tremendous formal cogency and the best-timed coda since Mravinsky (and, curiously, Haitink).
Finally, the various choirs and soloists all sing very well (Mikhail Russov is a bit wooly-toned in the Fourteenth, but authentically dark sounding). The Second Symphony, real sirens and all, comes off particularly impressively. If any performance can make sense of this avowed musical experiment, it's this one (the Third remains a formless potpourri no matter who conducts it). The live sonics are very faithful to the sound of the orchestra, and the audience, while present, is invariably well-behaved. I think it's important that Maxim Shostakovich's views on this music have been preserved at last, and if the result hasn't the technical perfection of the best of the competition, it has such honesty and genuine excitement that it really doesn't matter. This is a cycle to live with--a true reference for anyone wanting a baseline view of how each work ought to go, and what it expresses.
David Hurwitz, www.classicstoday.com, October 17, 2006
...My final set is the one which I think every Shostakovich admirer must hear. This is conducted by the composer´s son, Maxim ... I tell you now that this is the most consistently great set of his father´s symphonies I have heard. The playing has a thoroughgoing intensity and dedication to the music that is very moving to hear; he touches depths in this music we have rarely heard before. Maxim´s tempos are magnificent and he plays the music for all it is worth which, as we are dealing with a great composer, is worth a great deal. At times, I was astonished at the intensity of these performances: it is as though Maxim felt he may never get such a chance again, and had to take it with all the power and insight at his command. The performance of the Second Symphony ... is so overwhelming finer than Haitink´s (good though that is) that we are back in revolutionary Petrograd ourselves; the old order swept away with the fiery anger and energy of youth. Every one of the remaining 14 symphonies is given with equal commitment, proving that Maxim has the measure of his father´s music such has been given to few conductors. ... Maxim has an excellent choir and soloists in Symphonies Nos. 2, 3, 13 and 14 (Prague Philharmonic Choir, soprano Marina Shaguch and basses Peter Mikulás and Michail Ryssov), but it is for his conducting that you should buy this set and soon. You´ll wait a long time to hear such undeviatingly magnificent performances of the symphonies as these.
Denkmal für den Papa
Welt kompakt 23, December 5, 2006
PAVEL HAAS QUARTET, Colin Currie (percussion)
PAVEL HAAS: String Quartet No. 2 (From the
LEOS JANÁCEK: String Quartet No. 2 (Intimate Letters)
Supraphon SU 3877-2
For the love of Janácek
The Pavel Haas Quartet is the latest in a seemingly limitless supply of hugely talented chamber ensembles that emanate from the
The performers demonstrate a similarly convincing capacity to bring imagery to life in the remarkable Second Quartet by the Janácek pupil Pavel Haas. In particular they relish the almost onomatopoeic representation of a creaky horse and cart in the second movement, the exuberant rhythmic brashness of the finale where a solo percussionist enters the fray delineating popular dance rhythms of the 1920s, and at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum the wonderfully atmospheric portrayal of the Moravian landscape in the opening. Comparison with the highly respectable release from the Kocian Quartet on Praga Digitals, which also features Haas’s other two quartets, confirms that the present performers project the music in a more vivid manner and enjoy the benefits of superior sound. Hopefully the success which this recording surely deserves will persuade Supraphon to issue a companion disc in which the other quartets by their namesake are coupled with Janácek’s First Quartet. Time will tell.
Erik Levi, BBC Music Magazine, October 2006
Performance * * * * *
Sound * * * * *
Benchmark Pavel Haas Supraphon SU 3877-2
Wackiness, grotesque humour and a drum-kit: welcome to the world of Haas
The catalogue is not short of recommendable versions of Janacek's Intimate Letters Quartet. But there are any number of ways of bringing its hyper-passionate declarations off the page, and this young Czech quartet have plenty of ideas of their own about that. Once or twice that leads them into an over-calculated delivery. But try the third movement at 2'58'' where, having fined the texture down to a whisper, Janacek gives the first violin an electrifying outburst; if that contrast has been made more emotionally real on record it is certainly not so on the half-dozen LPs and CDs I picked off my shelves. The very fine recent Talich Quartet version (Calliope, 6/06) does not even run the Pavel Haas Quartet close. I would almost be inclined to recommend the new disc for this moment alone.
But then there is the 1925 Second Quartet by the composer whose name the players have adopted. This is the kind of piece that may make you wonder why you haven't heard it before. After a first movement that tellingly redeploys a number of patent Janacekisms, Haas slips into the grotesque humour of Stravinsky's Three Pieces for String Quartet and once again fashions a structure that transcends reliance on its model.
In the finale whackiness goes a step further, with a rollicking jazz-folk fusion, brilliantly caught here together with the original drum-kit accompaniment that Haas suppressed following adverse criticism at the premiere. Anyone who snapped up the Hawthorne Quartet's excellent recording in Decca's Entartete Musik series (3/94 - nla) will need no telling. On the other hand, anyone who chanced on the Kocian Quartet's patchy, ill-tuned account (Praga Digitals) may wonder what all the fuss is about. So the PHQ's streamlined but full-blooded playing is more than welcome, and if they are lining up the first Janacek and the first and third Haas for a follow-up CD, I will be at the front of the queue to hear it. Superb recording quality too.
David Fanning, Gramophone, November 2006
Disc of the month – International consensus
Artstic Quality 10 / Sound Quality 10
The Pavel Haas Quartet is yet another exceptional young ensemble from the Czech Republic, and this debut recording is a major statement. They are coached by Milan Skampa, violist of the Smetana Quartet, and their performance of Janácek's "Intimate Letters" reveals their mentor's influence in details such as the quick tempo for the finale. Otherwise this is very much an individual performance of a work that seems able to absorb just about anything interpretively that you might care to throw at it.
In this case, we hear an unusually wide range of tempo contrasts, but also extreme care in making transitions from one section to the next. The frantic outburst in the middle of the second movement offers a particularly telling example, and the collective virtuosity required to phrase with such unanimity is really astonishing. In short, this is yet another first-rate performance of this glorious work, one of the pinnacles of the quartet literature. It also makes the ideal coupling with the Second String Quartet of Pavel Haas.
Haas is best known today for his brief Study for Strings, written in the Terezín concentration camp and first performed under Karel Ancerl and his orchestra of Jewish musicians. A pupil of Janácek, and the one composer often said to most resemble him in style, Haas died at Auschwitz in 1944. The Second Quartet's subtitle, "From the Monkey Mountains", refers to a popular Czech resort area and highlights the music's sources of inspiration: nature, folk music, and many of the same sights and sounds that Janácek evokes in his music (chamber or otherwise).
One unusual feature of this quartet is the inclusion of percussion in the finale ("Wild Night"). It works splendidly, though the piece also can be played without it. The only serious competition for this music comes from the Kocian Quartet on Praga, a disc containing all three Haas quartets, and good though that performance is, this one is even better, if only slightly so. Part of the reason stems from the perfectly balanced ensemble and beautifully smooth string sonority, a specialty of the best Czech quartets from the Smetana to the Panocha, Prazák, and Talich Quartets. This quality allows the players to really dig into the music without ever making an ugly sound (except when the music asks for one).
For example, that nasty explosion just before the end of "Intimate Letters", or the grinding sonorities of "Coach, Coachman, and Horse" in the Haas quartet, really stand out, much more so than in performances where a generalized timbral harshness is mistaken for intensity of expression. Kudos also to percussionist Colin Currie, whose trap-set playing meshes ideally with that of the quartet, neither too prominent nor too reticent, giving the Haas finale all of the color and personality that it needs. Great sonics too. A stupendous release!
David Hurwitz, www.classcstoday.com, October 16, 2006
Le disque du mois – consesnsus international
Artistique 10 / Technique 10
Sublime couplage, sublime quatuor, sublime disque! Les quatuors à cordes poussent en république tchèque comme du bon grain. Voici le Pavel Haas Quartet, deux hommes et deux femmes qui marchent d'emblée sur les traces des Prazák. Ils concurrencent la version du 2e Quatuor de Haas par les Kocian parue chez Praga. Ce nouveau quatuor partage avec les Prazák le sens du risque et un petit grain de folie, par exemple dans la coda échevelée – mais ô combien maîtrisée – du 2e mouvement du Second Quatuor de Haas.
Dès le "Largo e misterioso" qui suit, une autre qualité de cet ensemble formé en 2004 apparaît, une qualité précieuse que j'appellerais le "frémissement musical", ce tremblement de vie au bout de l'archet. Ce mouvement, intitulé "La lune et moi" incarne cette musicalité irradiante. Le Finale avec percussion, "La Nuit sauvage" présente un contraste très intéressant avec la version des Kocian, les deux lectures étant de haut vol: plus d'effets sonores et de vivacité avec les Kocian, plus de frottements harmoniques et plus de creusement rythmique avec les Haas.
La qualité du jeune Quatuor est attestée dès leur interprétation des "Lettres intimes", où l'articulation posée sur le violoncelle incisif de Peter Jarusek et le violon découpé au scalpel de Veronika Jaruskova (le Finale vous fera frissonner) fait mouche sans pourtant tomber dans une sorte de parodie.
Supraphon a signé avant l'été 2006 un contrat avec ces musiciens. Le grand label tchèque, qui s'est fait dépasser e la matière pendant dix années par Praga (avec les Pra¾ák et les Kocian, qui surpassaient aisément tout ce que Supraphon tentaient avec les Panocha ou les Skampa) se rebiffe et inscrira enfin – et probablement à long terme – un nouveau nom à placer dans la lignée des Quatuors Vlach, Janacek et Smetana.
Christophe Huss, www.classicstodayfrance.com, October 2006
To its composer, Janácek’s second string quartet, Intimate Letters, was a work seemingly “carved out of living flesh”. That’s just how it sounds in this brilliant account from a gifted Czech group. Bold in attack, tempo and texture, they never slip and always give us passion. The qualities persist in the vigorous, imaginative second quartet of Pavel Haas, their namesake – a Janácek pupil and Auschwitz victim. A CD sequel is essential.
Geoff Brown, The Times, October 6, 2006
ANTONÍN DVORÁK: Piano Trio No.
Supraphon SU 3872-2
DISC OF THE MONTH!
Czech the new definitive Dvorák
The latest incarnation of the Smetana Trio sweep the board with their first instalment of Dvorák’s piano trios.
Building on a consistent track record of virtue, the Smetana Trio, excellently recorded, deliver landmark performances of both trios. The recorded history of the F minor Trio is one in which ensembles have tended to show it respect rather than love. Here is a ground-breaking performance that brings all the work’s abundant emotional force to life. The developmental intensity of the F minor Trio’s first movement has rarely seemed more incandescent or the slow movement more winningly lyrical; best of all is the satisfyingly conclusive end to the finale...
Dumky: The Smetana Trio delivers exactly the right blend of soulful expressiveness and, where needed, the wild infectiousness Dvoøák intended, without resorting to the slightly hectoring manner adopted by some ensembles. A vital ingredient in the Smetana Trio’s success is the quality of their string sound, its variety of tone and the handling of vibrato. Certainly there are many details to admire in these performances, but in the end it is the Trio’s unrivalled feeling of ensemble that generates results unmatched in the catalogue.
If you love Dvorák, you should rush out and buy this superb new disc, which deserves to become an instant classic. This glorious chamber-music playing of versions of the two most famous Dvorák piano trios can take its place straight away among the finest recordings ever made of this repertoire. In the Dumky Trio which opens the disc, the wonderfully rich and cultivated sound of the Smetana Trio is immediately apparent, but so too is their alertness to the rhythmic nuances of Dvorák´s music, the most eloquent and elastic phrasing, and, in the faster music, a life-enhancing sense of dance (just as there should be). The challenge facing any interpreters of the Dumky is catching the changing moods, perspectives and speeds of the music without disrupting its flow. I don´t think I´ve ever heard that achieved quite so magnificently as it is here. And throughout the performance, instrumental colours have a richness, variety and character that mark out this ensemble as very special indeed.
The huge F minor Trio is just as impressive there´s a heroic sweep and urgency to the opening movement which has the kind of vibrancy and drive that few earlier ensembles have even risked, let alone brought off, with such complete conviction. Here, too, there is still the most winning flexibility in the playing and the Smetana Trio´s control of both dynamics and balance produces a detail and sinew to the textures that is wondrous to behold. The lightness of touch in the Scherzo is a welcome contrast to some of the rather clunky versions that have made it onto record, and again rhythms are always given shape and character, but never with any sense of self-consciousness. The same virtues are heard to memorable effect in the slow movement, which here becomes a single outpouring of musical ideas rather than the slightly episodic movement it can sometimes appear to be. The finale is tremendous and the climax, where the music changes from the dark hues of F minor to the sunny radiance of F major, is a glorious moment.
There is plenty of competition in these works, much of it very good, notably the Suk Trio, whose classic versions will always be an essential part of any serious chamber
DIAPASON D´OR! Plage 1 de notre CD
Bienheureux Dvorák! Cette nouvelle gravure des deux plus importants trios restera probablement comme l´une des plus physiques, des plus apres, des mois flatteuses qui soient a l´oreille mais aussi des plus vibrantes, habitée par un naturel et une authenticité rares...
Les membres du Trio Smetana ... offrent à ces deux oeuvres ... une lecture probe et libre, effusive parfois jusqu´à l´excès, instinctive toujours. A l´heure d´une si fréquente standardisation du son, ce disque rassure par son engagement...
Philippe Simon, Diapason, Septembre 2006
In this coupling of Dvorák´s most popular (The Dumky) and the greatest (The F minor) piano trios, they capture the national spirit of Dvorák´s dance movements with a native understanding of the idiom. ... The F minor work is a turbulent masterpiece in the tradition of Schumann and Brahms. The Smetanas have this glorios music in their blood.
The Sunday Times, August 6, 2006
...Dvorák injected it (Dumky) with contrasting colours and moods, and it is these that are expounded with such life and diligence by the Smetana Trio through the work's six movements. ... Their performance of the more conventional, four-movement F minor Trio is no less inspired, capturing its agitation as successfully as its lyricism.
Matthew Rye, The Telegraph, July 2006
Artstic Quality 10 / Sound Quality 10
...This stupendous new recording rivals the celebrated Suk Trio interpretations for the same label both in technical mastery and interpretive insight; in short, it is second to none. ... There isn't a second in this performance where you feel the music should be played any other way, and no praise can be higher than that.
...If anything, these qualities are even more evident in the great F minor trio. The players fling themselves into the first movement with almost dangerous abandon – but notice how perfectly in tune the opening octaves are, and how perfectly balances are maintained even in the most turbulent episodes in the development section. ... It's the slow movement that's really special here. It's not only beautifully paced and phrased, but the ensemble obviously took as much care with transitions as with the melodies, and the result has a seamless continuity that belies the impression in less-adept performances of a movement consisting of a disjointed stream of incredibly pretty tunes...
It's that good, and the sonics have a true-to-life immediacy that permits these spellbinding interpretations to register with maximum impact. Without question, this is a very great recording, an essential acquisition whether you already love this music or just want to get to know it better.
The Smetana Trio has these works in its blood, and the burnished cello tone of
Jeremy Nicholas, Classic FM, October 2006
ANTONÍN DVORÁK: String Quartets (complete)
Supraphon SU 3815-2 (Box of 8 CDs)
Factor in excellent, full-bodied sound, and this is definitely a winner.
JAKUB HRUSA / Prague Philharmonia
Antonin Dvorák: Czech Suite, Polonaise, Waltzes
Supraphon SU 3867-2
It is easy to lose count of just how many top-notch orchestras there are in Prague: the Czech Philharmonic, Prague Philharmonic, Prague Symphony, Prague Radio Symphony, and the conductorless Prague Chamber Orchestra. Last but far from least is the Prague Philharmonia: soft, silky strings, colorful winds, shining brass; they, too, have it all. What a lovely disc! No masterpieces, you may carp? Just Dvorák being Dvorák is enough. The Czech Suiteis filled with an easy charm, and Burghauser’s arrangements of the eight waltzes for piano are sensitive to the composer’s every nuance. Note that these are not the so-called Prague Waltzes, nor do they include Dvorák’s well-known arrangements for strings of the first and fourth op. 54 Waltzes. They may lack the blazing fire of the op. 46 Slavonic Dances, but have more character and color than the op. 59 Legends. If Burghauser’s orchestrations sometimes lean slightly toward Tchaikovsky, so does Dvorák’s 1879 Polonaise.
Hrusa, a 25-year-old maestro, has been conducting since elementary school. He has already led a dozen Czech and Slovak orchestras, from the Czech Philharmonic on down, has directed a world premiere at the National Theater, Prague’s foremost opera house, teaches in Berlin, conducts in Paris, and has founded a new-music ensemble. He leads relaxed, gracious performances, which succeed because every detail is fully realized: every melody caressed, every harmony sounded, every rhythm caught. I recently commented that you can’t go wrong with any number of recordings of the Czech Suite, but this may be the loveliest of them all.
Supraphon’s 2005 recording in Prague’s Domovina Studio is natural and clear; one imagines this young orchestra sounds exactly as it does on this disc. Burghauser’s orchestral arrangements have been recorded at least once before, by the Prague Symphony under Jiøí Bìlohlávek on a 1982 Supraphon disc, but don’t let that keep you from this delicious program.
James H. North, Fanfare, September / October 2006
A young conductor draws colourful and alert playing from his Czech orchestra
Antonín Dvorák – Czech Suite, Polonaise, Eight Waltzes
This is a delightful collection of Dvorák in relaxed mood. All three works date from 1879, just when German publishers were taking note of the colourful Czech composer, whose Slavonic Dances had been such a success. Again exploiting the Czech idiom, these are on the whole gentler, easier-going pieces, notably the Czech Suite. Even the second movement polka opens very gently, with the third movement a sort of rustic minuet, labelled Sousedska, and the fourth movement a lyrical Romanza, starting with a romantic flute solo. Only the fifth movement, a furiant, relates exactly to the idiom of the Slavonic Dances.
The Polonaise opens brassily with splendid panache, introducing a strongly rythmic piece full of vigour. The Eight Waltzes then prove amazingly varied, with no sense that Waltz-time is outstaying its welcome. Dvoøák himself orchestrated for strings two of his set of eight piano waltzes, but in 1879-80. Jarmil Burghauser went on to orchestrate the remaining six, very much in a Dvoøákian style. Again the sequence ends flamboyantly with an Allegro vivace very much in Slavonic Dance-style, spiced with sharp key-changes.
All the performances are excellent with
...Hrusa provides a very winning performance of the Czech Suite. He has a clear feel for developmental line... The Polonaise is given a triumphant outing, and the felicities of Burghauser´s orchestrations of the waltzes are clear at every turn, aided by a recording of commendable definition.
Performance * * * * / Sound * * * *
Jan Smaczny, BBC Music Magazine, Proms 2006
BEDRICH SMETANA: Má Vlast
VÁCLAV TALICH / Czech PO
Václav Talich Special Edition 6
Supraphon SU 3826-2
...I am not one to insist that music does not travel—we have had miraculous Dvoøák Symphonies from
This 1954 recording (Talich, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra) was their third of Má Vlast, and to my ears their finest, everybody’s finest (although I might take Kubelík’s emotion-packed return to
James H. North, Fanfare, September / October 2006
PAVEL SPORCL / Dvorák - Violin Works
DVORÁK: Romantic Pieces op. 75, Capriccio B81, Romance in F minor op. 11, Sonatina in G major op. 100, Mazurek op. 49, Ballad in D minor op. 15
Supraphon SU 3860-2
The Strad SELECTION!
Pavel Sporcl brings out the fun in Dvorák
This is a scintillating collection by a composer who, being a performer himself, knew from first-hand experience how best to write for the violin and viola.
A Brahmsian passion infuses the third of Dvorák´s Romantic Pieces (1887), into which the wonderful Czech violinist
The lively and virtuosic Capriccio is in some respects spurious, being heavily revised not by Dvorák (who declined to have it published), but by another hand. It’s fascinating to sense how, had he revisited it, this torso-like work might have gained in substance. The early Romance (1877), familiar from his orchestrated version yet all the more lucid here, is tantalisingly well played.
Dvorák´s Violin Sonatina (Fritz Kreisler recorded extracts on two occasions) was written in America in late 1893 for two of his surviving children, Otilka (Otilie, aged 17) and his elder son Toník (Antonín, then just ten). Its sheer delight and melodious, youthful charm are engagingly captured in this inspired Czech performance.
Sporcl carefully restrains any vibrato in faster passages; while an equally apt shy vibrato helps sustain the enchanting Larghetto (when and where the children first played it seems uncertain.)
By contrast with the early and wistful Ballad, Mazurek – Dvorák´s Czech ‘take’ on the neighbouring Poles´ mazurka – brims with life. It’s all huge fun and very readily recommended.
Supraphon´s vivid recorded sound here would not disgrace EMI.
Roderic Dunnett, STRAD June 2006, CD Reviews – Recital