The Prague Philharmonic Choir is one of the major Czech professional choirs, boasting an illustrious history and great renown at home and abroad alike. They have worked with prominent orchestras and conductors worldwide, and regularly performed at prestigious music festivals. The choir have made numerous remarkable albums, released on Supraphon and other labels. Their new album, Village Stories, featuring folk-inspired pieces by Leoš Janáček, Igor Stravinsky and Béla Bartók, follows on from the critically acclaimed recording of Bohuslav Martinů’s cantatas (Gramophone Editor’s Choice, nomination for the BBC Music Magazine Award).
The chorus master and conductor Lukáš Vasilek invited to the studio superb soloists, including the soprano Kateřina Kněžíková, the mezzo-soprano Jana Hrochová, the tenor Boris Stepanov and the baritone Jiří Brückler, as well as the outstanding pianist Alexandra Stychkina, the Zemlinsky Quartet and the Belfiato Quintet. Prior to the release of Village Stories, containing music by three major 20th-century composers markedly influenced by folk music, which they brought to bear in their own creations, we talked toLukáš Vasilek, who selected the album’s repertoire and led the recording sessions at VZLET, a new Prague centre of culture.
What played the most important role in the album’s overall conception?
At the beginning, there was our intention to explore and perform Stravinsky’s Les noces. Subsequently, we sought similarly singular pieces, based on Slavic folk music. Janáček’s Nursery Rhymes was a clear choice, as it suits Stravinsky’s ballet-cantata splendidly, yet it took us some time to find the third composition. It was only by chance that I came across Bartók’s Village Scenes, which I did not know at all. I believe it was the right pick. I deem the combination of the three pieces perfect.
What was the most difficult aspect of the recording?
The music itself. All three pieces are extremely difficult to perform, as well as rather delicate. What’s more, the instrumentation is quite bizarre. When it comes to the recording sessions, everyone involved manifested great enthusiasm – not only the singers and musicians, but also the recording director, sound engineers, editor and executive producer.
Did anything surprise you when preparing the album?
Not really. All of us were well aware of the requirements the pieces placed on us, and duly prepared really meticulously. At the rehearsals I tried to pinpoint the passages that would be problematic during the recording itself, and we focused on them accordingly.