“This was my very first encounter with Dora and Clara Novák. Their musical vitality and their sense of their father’s music were great inspiration and support for me. In combination with pianist Karel Košárek’s professionalism it was a unique experience,” says renowned conductor Tomáš Netopil about recording Jan Novák’s concertos breathing the atmosphere of a family gathering across time. He recorded the album with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, which will be released by Supraphon on CD and in digital formats on Friday, 13 October 2023.
The music of Jan Novák (1921–1984) is exceptional and remarkable in itself. However, the new Supraphon recording puts a certain stamp of authenticity on it. Besides pianist Karel Košárek, the solo parts of the three concertante pieces were played by both of the composer’s daughters. While flautist Clara Nováková might have returned in memory to the time when she was fifteen and her father dedicated the first version of Choreae vernales to her, Dora Novak-Wilmington sat by the piano instead of her mother, Eliška, who was as excellent a player as her husband, Jan. Commenting on her father’s music, Clara Nováková says: “The music can be listened to in different ways: technically, analytically, emotionally… but I think that in my father’s music, and on this new album in general, there is something like enlightenment on life and its beauty and particularly on joy. My father was capable of joking even under really tough circumstances. He had a light mind without being careless. And joy may also be a manifestation of resistance, whether political, anti-state or more generally against memento mori.” Dora Novak-Wilmington adds: “The range of my father’s musical thinking is really huge because it contains the depth of inner longing as well as a relaxed atmosphere, humour and the joy of life. There is defiance of any pressure on the freedom of thought and it also reveals his roots in his beloved Moravian music and his love of the rhythm of classical poetry.”
The concerto for two pianos reflects the composer’s impressions of studying with Bohuslav Martinů in New York. Concentus biiugis for piano four hands was played in the year of its inception in the composer’s exile in Germany to support Charter 77, the civic initiative criticising the Communist regime for violating human rights in his homeland. Pianist Karel Košárek says: “I dare say that for most listeners Concentus biiugis as well as Concerto for two pianos and orchestra will be new music and to a large degree a ‘revelation’. The two pieces were written twenty years apart, so their musical impression is different. The Concerto for two pianos is a work full of youthful vigour and the composer’s virtuosity while Concentus biiugis expresses inner defiance and longing for freedom.”
The first version of the Spring Dances (Choreae vernales) was written in Italy, also in 1977. Three years later, the composer clothed them in the colourful attire of string orchestra. It is this largely unknown version of the composition that appears on the recording, which conductor Tomáš Netopil comments on: ”I think that this orchestral version gave the piece its true meaning and character. For such a composer as Jan Novák, the beautiful colours of the string instruments, complemented by another tinge of the celeste and the harp, represent an immense variety that can be turned into very poetic and youthful consistency in the Spring Dances.”