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Review Janacek-CD

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+Review Janacek-CD (Dux) Summer 2014

Leos JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Idyll for strings (1878) [26:07]
Suite for two violins, viola, cello and double-bass (1877) [18:41]
Znělka 1. Sonnet for 4 violins (1875) [3:52]
String Quartet No. 1 inspired by Tolstoy The Kreutzer Sonata (1923)
(arr. string orchestra, E. Kovacic) [19:45]
The Wroclaw Chamber Orchestra ‘Leopoldinum/Ernst Kovacic cond.
17-19 February, 25-26 March 2013,
Concert Hall, W.Lutosławski Philharmonic, Wrocław, Poland
DUX 0946 [68:46]

This delightful and immensely enjoyable CD can be warmly welcomed as an introduction to the music of the Czech composer Leos Janáček. It showcases three of his early works as well as an arrangement of the String Quartet No. 1 Kreutzer Sonata for string orchestra. The earliest work here is Znělka 1, Sonnet for 4 violins, a student composition from 1875. It`s name derives from Znělka (Sonnet) or sonata, a piece for instrumental performance, in contrast to a cantata for vocal performance. It was with this and other student works that Janáček served his apprenticeship, and many fragments from this period were later used in the Suite of 1877. The movements of this orchestral work were originally given baroque titles (Prelude, Allemande) but adverse criticism from some quarters led him to settle for tempo-related titles. A year later, in 1878, Janáček composed his Idyll for strings, similarly mapping it out to the template of the Suite. The composer had a penchant for this genre, which would crop up later in the Sinfonietta. The Idyll, however, exhibits a more advanced compositional style to its predecessor, with the influence of Dvořák and even hints of Grieg being evident. Indeed, Dvořák attended the first performance in 1878, conducted by the composer. The last decade of Janáček,s life saw a sudden burst of creativity. In 1917 he met Kamila Stösslová, the wife of an antique dealer, who was thirty-eight years his junior, she was twenty-five at the time. Despite Janáček,s hot pursuit,he was married to Zdenka Schultzova, the affair remained unconsummated. He wrote over 700 hundred letters to her. She did, however, become his muse and was the inspiration for three of his finest operas: Katya Kabanova, The Cunning Little Vixen and The Makropoulos Affair. His passion for Kamila also inspired him to compose the Glagolitic Mass, the Sinfonietta and the two String Quartets. The composer developed an interest in Russia and its culture, and this passion is reflected in his later works. Tolstoy's novella ‘The Kreutzer Sonata, became a fascination for him and an inspiration for an unfinished Piano Trio (1908). In 1923, he composed a String Quartet carrying the title The Kreutzer Sonata utilizing material from the Piano Trio. The Quartet was completed in just a week. Janáček saw parallels with his own situation with Kamila in the Tolstoy novella. The result was a deeply impressionistic work. Whilst the early works here do not really give a foretaste of the mature composer of the later operas, Sinfonietta and the Glagolitic Mass they are, nevertheless, tuneful and pleasurable. The later Quartet has been arranged, idiomatically and successfully, for string orchestra by the conductor Ernst Kovacic. The work lends itself effectively to such an arrangement, and I see that it has been done before by Richard Tognetti. There are two separate performances on Chandos, one conducted by Tognetti himself. I haven´t heard either to compare. The Wrocław Chamber Orchestra play with great technical mastery, and deliver captivating and heartfelt performances. The Quartet I would especially single out as ravishingly played with an innate musicality and intuitiveness. The players certainly give of their all. Sound quality is second-to-none.
Stephen Greenbank

+Cerha-CD, Review in Fanfare Magazin, März/April 2014:

FRIEDRICH CERHA
Music for Violin and Piano and Solo Violin
Violin Sonatas: No. 1; No. 3.

Capriccio.
Meditation.

Altes Lied.
Deux éclats en réflexion.

Formation et solution
.
Six Pieces for Solo Violin.

Rhapsodie

Ernst Kovacic (vn); Mathilde Hoursiangou (pn)
TOCCATA 0199 (71:02)

Toccata’s jewel-case blurb describes Friedrich Cerha as “Austria’s leading avant-garde composer.” And his training and career as a violinist raise a secondary question of whether he wrote violin music or music for the violin. Of the nine works on violinist Ernst Kovacic’s and pianist Mathilde Hoursiangou’s program, the jewel case describes all but two as “first recordings,” so general listeners can begin to solve this puzzle.
The program opens with Cerha’s First Violin Sonata, written in 1946–47. The composer’s own notes (translated by Martin Anderson) mention the dominant voice of Paul Hindemith in Cerha’s musical culture, and the Sonata’s vigorous first movement perhaps reflects Hindemith’s influence, but coupled, as in the second movement, with a warm humanity that some of Hindemith’s music seemed to lack. (I remember a passionate Slavic composition-student classmate of mine a generation or more ago calling Hindemith’s works “music to eat crackers by.”) The haunting second movement turns up the temperature once again, while the Finale, as did so many of Hindemith’s, bristles with energy—although in this case, the movement dissipates some of that energy into heat as well as into motion; that occurs especially in the deeply affecting lyrical episode. Kovacic and Hoursiangou give a brisk and energetic account of the fast movements and an expressive reading of the slow one. The recorded sound captures Kovacic up close, revealing the smart snap of his bow stroke and the beauty of his tone. He makes this Sonata sound like both well crafted music for the violin and violin music; and his performance should set many violinists on a search for the sheet music.
The three-minute Capriccio (from 1950) that follows combines bite with lilt; Cerha’s notes attribute its spirit to Darius Milhaud (and Cerha mentions a brief allusion to La Création du Monde). It’s once again a most attractive violin piece, and it receives a jaunty, stylish performance from the duo. A highly atmospheric Meditation follows, a piece that nearly quotes the first movement Maurice Ravel’s Violin Sonata. Kovacic and Hoursiangou explore its shadowy regions with the penetrating insight that Joseph Szigeti brought to that Sonata.
Altes Lied
, which follows, possesses the near-gypsy ardor of the folk music embedded in Bartók’s ethnic works for violin and piano, but seems almost as accessible—and loamy—as Fritz Kreisler’s pastiches. And, it’s equally violinistic. It’s hard to imagine that violinists could ever fail to program such music, so skillfully combining style and substance, if it became widely available.
The very brief three-movement Third Violin Sonata, from 1954, crosses into a different world, perhaps as a result of Cerha’s work with Arnold Schoenberg’s student Josef Polnauer, which he mentions in the notes. Yet the beauty of Kovacic’s tone and Hoursiangou’s rhythmic energy in the Finale keep the piece from sounding even the least forbidding. If Cerha’s notes seem abstract at times, the music itself never does.
Deux éclats en réflexion
, from 1956, represent, according to the composer, another turning point, the music being packed “full of unusual sounds.” Nevertheless, no matter how far the textures and harmonies might press into the abyss in the first piece, and no matter how skittish the second might grow, the performers communicate their musical messages with an urgency that listeners will be hard pressed to ignore.
Formation et solution
, from 1956 and 1957 (“fragmented,” Cerha’s notes call it), explores timbral effects just as aggressively, but some of these seem to embody as sensitive and as exquisitely wrought orchestration as do the works of Berlioz, though, of course, there’s no musical comparison, while some at the end of the work sound more straightforwardly and unrelievedly dissonant.
The longest single work on the program, Six Pieces for Solo Violin, hails from 1997. Here’s an unaccompanied piece written by a violinist (in this case for a violinist—Ernst Kovacic himself), that therefore stands in the line of the unaccompanied pieces of Bach, Eugène Ysaÿe, and Hindemith. These pieces range from the angular No. 1 (Energisch), relieved by more lyrical moments, to the atmospheric No. 2 (Sehr ruhig), with double-stopped trills and shrill harmonics), embracing two untitled central movements, before ending with another movement, Sehr ruhig, and a Finale, Energisch.
Cerha wrote the last piece on the program, Rhapsodie, for the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud competition in 2001. What would the sensuous Thibaud make of this piece? Kovacic opens it with the boldness he might bring to Ravel’s Tzigane, but he makes its violinistic effects seem considerably broader, piquing the listener’s interest with skittish passagework throughout. Again, though, what would the sensuous Thibaud have made of the piece? Could he have won his own eponymous competition playing it?
For those who wish to explore a cross-section of the violin music of what appears to be one of the most commanding voices among recent composers, not to mention violinist-composers, Toccata’s collection, with its brilliant and, seemingly, authoritative performances and lively recorded sound, should be a natural choice. In every way, it’s another winner from Toccata that can be very warmly recommended.
Robert Maxham

+Review in Fanfare (2012) THE ART OF FUGUE

THE ART OF FUGUE• Ernst Kovacic, cond; Wroslaw CO • ACCORD ACD 168-2 (69:21)
Selections by BACH, MOZART, SCHUMANN, REINECKE, EISLER, BRITTEN, PURCELL, VILLA-LOBOS, HONEGGER, ZEISL, MOSZKOWSKI

A number of years ago some researchers undertook to measure the degrees of consonance and dissonance one encountered in the organ works of Bach and Mendelssohn. A computer run of the harmonies involved revealed, as we would all suppose, a tremendous similarity in the formal construction of the various contrapuntal effects employed by the two composers. It also equally demonstrated what one would expect from the century that had passed between the death of Bach and that of Mendelssohn—namely that more and more dissonances would be found in the recent composer’s use of the old forms.
Listening to this CD amounts to something of a lesson in the harmonic progress of music over time. Ernst Kovacic has arranged his program of fugues in nearly chronological order (although, for purposes of contrast, we do wind up with Purcell after Britten and Moszkowski after Zeisl). But the effect on the listener is of witnessing the opening up of musical harmony over the centuries. The strictures of fugal form, seemingly severe and studious, reveal themselves remarkably adaptable to ever more modern harmonies, and the increasing tendency of composers such as Mozart, Honegger, and Britten to precede fugues with a contrasting movement of some emotional depth, assists the old format in achieving full emotional expression in the romantic and postromantic eras.
Perhaps the most fascinating feature of this journey is the discovery of how personal and individual a fugal piece can be. You’d never mistake Schumann’s fugue for Bach. Somehow Schumann manages to weave into his fugal texture the strutting toddlers and childlike innocence familiar to us from his piano suites. Similarly, it is no surprise to say that Honegger manages to sound ominous and Hitchcockian, or that Villa-Lobos hovers on the edge of the bossa nova . The Zeisl is a nice discovery, conveying some of the lightness of a piece like the Hugo Wolf serenade. And Britten, as so often, can frequently appear a bit too virtuosic for his own good. His fugue sounds like an anxiety attack with a feather duster.
The Wroslaw Chamber Orchestra Leopoldinum under Kovacic is lively and on top of all this, and the Leopoldinum acoustic is everything one could wish for. Earlier works in the chronological sequence here are performed with the usual early-music twang, but the manner of phrasing evolves into modern delivery as the chronology proceeds. Program notes for the CD are detailed and useful. And the didactic nature of the undertaking is belied by the attractive nature of the performances.
Steven Kruger



+The Zebra Trio
Ernst Kovacic
violin
Steven Dann viola
Anssi Karttunen cello


In the agile, creative and highly adaptive zebra, the three musicians Ernst Kovacic, Steven Dann and Anssi Karttunen have found a species of animal which perfectly represents their identity as a chamber ensemble. In their tongue-in-cheek explanation of this choice, they note the following: “despite the fact that no two zebras are alike, each one having its own unique pattern of stripes, a group of zebras leaves the impression of being a single organism. This melding of their individualities allows them to make a powerful collective impression on lions, leopards, hyenas and … audiences. Perhaps the most important characteristic of the zebra, however, is its refusal to be swayed by public opinion. Zebras are the only species of the horse family that has never been domesticated. They are simply too stubborn. Could we possibly carry all this new music into the world without exhibiting at least slightly similar inclinations?” Following initial concerts in Canada and their European debut at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, the musicians followed up in 2010 with world première performances of trios composed specifically for them by Friedrich Cerha, Rolf Wallin and Miroslav Srnka and Kaija Saariaho.
Kairos Music Production