Record Review, London, Oktober 2011

 …Dvořák’s Requiem, an uneven but original and compelling work, has been fortunate in its recordings. These include, from 1959, a classic set under Karel Ančerl, which has regularly resurfaced in various guises. In post-war days, when Supraphon were issuing many fascinating but sometimes rather mediocrely engineered records, it was a fine achievement, and if the chorus was a little distant and monochrome, the Czech Philharmonic sounded remarkably vivid. Ančerl set a standard and a manner that is reflected in the new set. The opening, with its gentle but clear statement of the chant-derived motto theme that permeates the invention, is very similar on Arco Diva, but of course advances in recording techniques can deal more kindly with some of Dvořák‘s subtler orchestration. Throughout, the Brno choir distinguishes itself as a first-rate ensemble: Petr Fiala is its choirmaster as well as the conductor of the Brno Philharmonic.
The Requiem is very much an ensemble work, not one for soloistic egoism. Though Simona Šaturová sings the ‘Gradual’ beautifully, and Peter Mikuláš does well by the impassioned calls of the bass in the ‘Lacrimosa’, the more characteristic parts of the work, and ones which the conductor and soloists respond to sensitively, are when the solo singers come together.
Fiala directs a performance that is dramatic as well as essentially contemplative, with firm but not over-stated rhythm in the ‘Dies Irae’ and a slight edge to the superb brass playing at the opening of the ‘Tuba mirum’. Others, including Kertész and Sawallisch, have given smoother performances, and very good ones, but there is something more soundly rooted in its soil with this one…

John Warrack, Record Review, London, October 2011

(UP0130) reviews on Record Geijutsu (jp) Aug. 2011

[Suisen*: I RECOMMEND THIS !] Among religious music by Antonín Dvořák, most listeners of Western classical music would hit on Stabat Mater before all. Then would come Requiem, too. While Stabat Mater, with its lyricism and beautiful melopée, represents subtly the composer‘s own vision of lamenting Mother of the Lord, Requiem astonishes the listener by its intensity and maturity, typical of aged Dvořák, emphasizing its well-designed construction more than its lyrical melodiousness. Thus by far we had sometimes appreciated its reasonable interpretations, with zachlich clarity which make us understand Dvořák‘s arcana for construction. However, to represent this masterpiece it is indispensable to keep its Slavic timbre and rhythm that undergo in the authour’s mind. And it is in this very point that pleased me profoundly, to listen to this enthusiastic new interpretation by the orchestra and choir from Brno (recorded in live in November 2010). The regional savour in Brno which once fostered Janáček, its unique musicality which is welling out from its deep root, both drive us with truely vivid impression. Absolute are the self-confidence and sympathy to this masterwork of the conductor – especially on his concise directions, for timbres of the orchestra and for the unification of the singers‘ diction. It would be thanks to his being both general- and choir-master, as he himself is the very founder of this choir. As for four soloists, too, each sings very nicely. Especially the alto and bass singers who attend theree with very rich voices. Tenor, also nice with his passionate singing. Soprano as well – I really would like to listen her Janáček !

[Suisen*: I RECOMMEND THIS !] As for religious works by Dvořák, the Stabat Mater is more popular: however, it is really moving to listen his Requiem after long interval. Enomous in its scale, while being concious in its detail. The melodies are beautiful but not loosing intimacy, and with piety and seriousness the music drives us into its own domain for the Faith. Petr Fiala, for me unknown by far, is already reknowned as a choir-master and as a composer as well, according to the information I got. He excludes every exaggeration and his music is almost naive without uniqueness – howerver, I rather think that his austere humbleness should be taken as profoundly courageous attitude, in this age of rivalry for being more and more characteristic. Or, it would be because of his strong confidence for his own philosophy as a conductor, because without that it should be almost impossible to render this extraordinary natural interpretation: for example, his design of melodies (mainly played with woodwinds and strings) renders indeed certain taste for beauty, however he limited his arbitrariness to the minimum, entrusting the music to each listner’s own image. The drive is large-scaled but never be indulging, just keeping natural generousity. Not to warm the heart up strongly with heating system, but to prefer natural warmth from human hands which envelope it. We forget the flow of time, because of sweetness of this warmth, and gain calmness. Almost starting to regret why we are always living with inquietitude, nonsensely ! The choir suites completely to the philosophy of the conductor, and among soloists as well soprano and mezzo sing sympathetic to this world of warmth, bass also keeping himself within it. Only the tenor shows somehow arbitrary articulation which is his own.
Michifuyu KITAO

* Each disc is reviewed by two critics. When judged by both critics as ‘Suisen (= recommended)’, the disc awarded with the mark of ‘Tokusen (= Exclusive Recommendation)’.

Bernd Alois Zimmermann: Requiem für einen jungen Dichter

7.2009 | Autor: Vítězslav Mikeš

written for the HIS Voice journal, 4/2009

The monumental Requiem für einen jungen Dichter (Requiem for a Young Poet, 1967-1969), along with the opera Die Soldaten (Soldiers, 1958-1965), belongs to the principal compositions of Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) and, at the same time, to the most important creations in post-war German music. This is a composition treading—like the better part of Zimmermann’s creative output—a thin line between the modern (following impulses of the New Music) and the post-modern (with its pluralist aesthetic), as affirmed also by the recent debates in German musicology (see V. Zouhar, Post-modern music? German Debates in the Late 20th Century, Olomouc, 2004; pp. 119f).
The composition calls for a gigantic interpretive apparatus: two narrators, soprano, bass, three choirs, a grand orchestra (including two pianos, accordion, mandolin, and organ), a jazz quintet, and various electronic devices. The composer utilizes also the space, placing the choirs on all sides of the concert hall (one of the three must be divided in halves), while the electronic effects and other sound material emanating from loudspeakers are allowed to float above the heads of the audience by means of two four-channel audiotapes.
Central position in the Requiem is occupied by the human voice—Zimmermann himself has characterized his composition as a ‘lingual,’ or ‘Sprachstück.’ A great many quotations are introduced (such as from Mayakovsky, Joyce, Camus, or Wittgenstein), in addition to fragments of authentic recordings of political speeches (by Hitler, Churchill, Stalin, Dubček, etc.), pieced together into a collage by the author. This stream of text is placed into a creeping, massive sound of the orchestra, together creating a very expressive, dark current which turns into a many-layered and many-sensed chronicle of the half-century preceding the creation of the piece, as well as a memento of its own day.
The edition of the Requiem published last year under the Cybele label is a live recording of a 2005 concert from the Concertgebouw in Haarlem, the Netherlands. This CD is unique from all points of view. It offers an admirable performance featuring the German soprano Claudia Barainsky, the American baritone David Pittman-Jennings, Michael Rotschopf and Lutz Lansemann as the narrators, the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, the Slovak Philharmonic Choir, the EuropaChorAkademie, the Holland Symfonia, the Eric Vloeimans Quintet, Joao Rafael (electronics), and Bernhard Kontarsky (conductor). The SACD format offers the listener an opportunity to at least approach the original singular experience from the concert hall. Last but not least, also the 76-page booklet should be mentioned, including not only information about the composer, his composition and numerous pictures, but also all the text fragments structured in an exact accordance with their places in the composition (with their respective playing times mentioned), much facilitating the listener’s orientation; also included is a facsimile of the graphical score designed for the computer. If the recording was conceived of as a tribute to Zimmermann’s ninetieth birthday, which he would have celebrated last year, it could hardly have come out any better!

Cybele Records (www.cybele.de)
Distribution: Euromusica (www.euromusica.cz)



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Sacred Music

28.5.2008 | Autor: Luboš Stehlík

Psáno pro časopis Harmonie 2007/07

Nahrávat Mozarta je zapeklité - záplava titulů, s kterými vstupuje každý nový projekt chtě nechtě do srovnání, interpretační úskalí zdánlivě bezproblémové hudby. Navíc protagonisté recenzovaného titulu si sami vztyčili pochopitelné žánrové sakrální mantinely nepřekvapivou dramaturgií, neboť je to koneckonců hlavně projekt Českého filharmonického sboru z Brna a jeho šéfa Petra Fialy. Ten sice nemá mimořádné charisma například Nikolause Harnoncourta, Johna Eliota Gardinera nebo René Jacobse, ani Claudia Abbada či Karla Böhma, ale zato neobyčejně rozumí sboru, je zkušeným praktikem a odvedl úctyhodnou práci. Přestože nahrávka soupeří s desítkami projektů zahraničních labelů, tak doufám, že nezapadne. Především si nehraje na něco, čím není. Jde mimo vlnu tak zvané autentické provozovací praxe. Čeští komorní sólisté jsou zkušenými interprety klasické hudby, ale je to orchestr moderní. Jejich Mozart neurazí, i když do světové špičky typu Evropského komorního orchestru (orchestry s kopiemi historických nástrojů jsou už zcela jiná kategorie) jim schází ujít ještě poměrně velký kus cesty. Třicetičlenný komorní sbor zpívá výborně, evidentně mu takováto hudba velmi svědčí a po ještě detailnější přípravě by možná mohl konkurovat i slavným zahraničním ansámblům. Příjemným překvapením je výkon sopranistky Simony Houdy Šaturové, který je zcela srovnatelný s evropskou špičkou. Má krásný, oblý, barevně spíše tmavší, příjemně znělý hlas, který je navíc tak přirozeně lehce pohyblivý, že na rozdíl od jiných českých zpěvaček nemáte při koloraturách a rychlých pasážích pocit upocenosti. Škoda, že je českými firmami tak málo využívána. Jestliže bude opatrná ve volbě repertoáru, nezkazí ji operní provoz a bude stabilně spolupracovat s kvalitními dirigenty, tak ji určitě ještě čeká další cesta vzhůru.
Deska má velmi dobré technické parametry; výtvarné zpracování u mě vyvolalo nechtěně úsměv, protože jsem si vzpomněl na podobně červenou, superbudgetovou mozartovskou kolekci pro nejširší klientelu, které jsem si nemohl nevšimnout na přelomu 80. a 90. let v německých obchodních domech. Za to však vydavatel jistě nemůže. Koneckonců přicházet se stále novými designovými nápady je stále těžší, když už tu skoro všechno v té či oné formě bylo.


2008 | Autor: Jan Baťa

written for the Hudební rozhledy journal, 2008

Today’s market seems to be literally flooded with multiple complete recordings of Mozart’s oeuvre, which makes it almost astonishing to find courageous interprets and even more courageous music publishers who venture to bring out new, strictly Mozartean recordings. In this case, we are presented with a selection of sacred compositions from Mozart’s entire creative life—‘Regina coeli in B,’ KV 127; ‘Laudate Dominum,’ KV 339; ‘Te Deum laudamus,’ KV 141; ‘Exsultate, jubilate,’ KV 165; ‘Ave verum corpus,’ KV 618; and ‘Regina coeli,’ KV 108. Conductor Petr Fiala introduces the soprano Simona Houda Šaturová, the chamber chorus of the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, and the Czech Chamber Soloists orchestra.
All too often interprets struggle with their approach to sacred music. This is particularly the case with Mozart, whose compositions have incessantly been devalued as mere exhibition pieces and indispensable items of various ‘best-of’ selections. I must admit to having first listened to this CD with precisely this kind of prejudice. To my pleasant surprise, the artists who participated in its creation soon proved me wrong. By the precise intonation of the soloists, the choir and the orchestra, as well as by their flawless coordination and balance, but most of all by their perceptive approach to this particular genre. What precisely such an approach consists of, this is hard to define. One could characterize it as humble, reverent, honest, truthful… simply one that captures the essence of sacred music, that is to say, celebrates Divine Majesty.
As far as this CD is concerned, everything depends essentially on the performance of the Soprano. Ms. Simona Hounda Šaturová’s outstanding voice technique enables her to span all the difficulties of the solo part with a great panache while, at the same time, filling it with a spiritual content free of any trace of soloist mannerisms. The question of why the Mozartean discography keeps growing has a rather straightforward answer: Mozart’s music is simply brilliant, and as such it keeps attracting interprets as well as audiences. It is absolutely worth coming back to, be it in a church, on a concert stage or in a recording studio. Whether period or modern instruments are used (the latter was the case in this recording), the point is to express the spiritual message permeating it. Maestro Petr Fiala and all the interprets succeeded wonderfully, and their recording deserves the listeners’ utmost attention.



Franz Liszt - Christus

16. 1. 2008 | Autor: Vlasta Reittererová

written for the Harmonie journal, 1/2008

To present in concert the entire three-hour monument of Liszt’s three-part oratorio Christus, this is a feat only few dare. More usually, we are offered an opportunity to hear only one of the three parts (after all, this is how the composition was originally presented; the first complete performance took part in Weimer under the baton of the composer himself), or a recording. However, Liszt envisioned his composition as a structured whole comprising choral movements, solo movements and orchestral parts. He also put together the libretto, which consists of biblical passages and liturgical texts. The oratorio Christus was a fruit of Liszt’s reflections on the function and style of sacred music, which in his view should respect the religious idea while belonging, at the same time, by its structure and musical means to its own, modern time. Liszt was never afraid to mix styles: he used Gregorian chant, simple pastoral melodies, majestic choral hymns, as well as orchestral intermezzos, each with a brief ‘program’—in a way, these can be considered symphonic poems.
The three parts of the oratorio represent three periods in the life of Christ. First comes a Christmas oratorio including the Annunciation, the shepherds’ song at the crib, and the approach of the Three Kings. The middle part (after the Epiphany) follows the most important moments of Christ’s life. Here we find Liszt’s own setting of Pater noster, the establishment of the Church, or the entrance to Jerusalem. The third and final part deals with the Easter events (the Passion and the Resurrection), including a Stabat mater dolorosa juxtaposed with the Stabat mater speciosa in the first part, and the monumental concluding Alleluia. (Both ‘Stabats’ are occasionally performed as independent compositions.)
The solo voices represent ‘anonymous’ angels, while the only ‘definite’ person is Christ, sung by a baritone or a tenor. By way of explanation: male solos are performed either by a tenor and a baritone, or by a baritone and a bass, depending on the singers’ disposition; the newest Schott Publishers edition has the baritone-bass cast. This explains why the CD imprint gives Christ’s part to a tenor, while the commentary mentions a baritone (unfortunately, this is not the only error in the booklet). A crucial role is played by the choir, both mixed and separate men’s and women’s chorus. In the recording of Maestro Roman Kofman and the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn, an important part is thus played by the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno and its Choir Master Petr Fiala. The choir boasts an excellent balance of timbre and dynamics, suffering from no piercing sopranos or sticking-out tenors, as is the case with mixed choruses all too often. All individual voice groups are proportionally balanced, and the whole sounds harmoniously and compactly to perfection. All the soloists sing well—Franziska Hirzel, soprano; Birgit Remmert, alto; Donald Kaasch, tenor; and Ralf Lukas, baritone—albeit personally I might prefer more rounded and even women’s voices. Although Liszt’s oratorio has in some parts an (intentionally) operatic flavor, none of the soloists succumbs to the temptation of grand-opera bombast; clearly, the content of the words sung remained paramount. Liszt’s composition is rather heterogeneous, yet Maestro Roman Kofman succeeded—with the aid of the acoustic of the Church of the St. Cross in Bad Godesberg, and undoubtedly also the sound technicians (the SACD quality is clearly audible)—in bridging the caesuras between orchestral, a cappella, choral-orchestral and solo parts, and in filling the recording with a unified, dignified and devotional drive. Neither the organist Christoph Anselm Noll should go unmentioned, whose part underlies the spiritual import of the composition.