Brand : BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Novak: Lady Godiva / Toman and the Wood Nymph / De Profundis

Charles voogd |

More more more mr. pesek mr. couzens!

With dvorák my love affair with czech/bohemian (and middle european) music has started but with novák (and janacek, suk, and ostrcil etc.) it has gained depth. i really don't know why so many great composers did emerge from this little country but novák is definitely one of them. in de profundis this music explores the depth of war-experiences with very dark and somber tones which made the greatest impression on me. i own a recording of this poem with jaroslav vogel (supraphon) from the sixties but that recording per se is very recessed; the performance is even more intense than in pesek's reading. the other two symphonic poems are available in other readings too, but pesek wins on sound, intensity of ensemble playing, and he never lets down on the poetry of this music which has a typical czech flavor. some years ago pesek did more works by these composers (suk, novak) for virgin and i'm very happy to see that he continues on chandos. readers and critics hope he'll record the great tone poem the sea (boure), also by novák, but that has already been done very well on supraphon too. no, let him do works which have not had a decent recording yet and are equally compelling and deserve a modern performance: orchestral music by ostrcil and kovarovich, foerster and last but not least the mai-symphony by novák.

David anthony hollingsworth |

Profound, absorbing works extremely well played by pesek and the bbc philharmonic.

Vítêzslav novák (1870-1949) belong to the post-dvorak generation of composers (suk, ostrcil, fibich, and foerster) who emerged by the turning of the twentieth century. generally, suk & novák are considered the most important and influential composers of that generation. but others, especially ostrcil, have been given due credit, and rightfully so. how to describe novák's works, especially on first encountering? personal and deep, thematically fresh melodically, somewhat progressive, articulation that is a bit rugged and aggressive a la janacek, and with the orchestration that has this sort of strauss' evocation and coloring. novák was particularly attracted to the world of nature and to the female psyche (like respighi and strauss respectively). the overture to jaroslav vrchlicky's play "lady godiva" comes to mind. i'm tempting to call it a symphonic fantasy, for it has the independence about it that paints an all-round picture of lady godiva (as a sensitive woman with a strong sense of inner strength- portrayed with delicacy by the harp and strings) and of her husband, leofric (as oppressive and selfish depicted by the brass). it is an appealing, yet an expansive work, with a staunch opening not too remotely reminiscence of smetana with echoes of strauss. the symphonic poem "toman & the wood nymph" (1906-7) is likewise straussian with touches of respighi, debussy, and ravel (with the impressionistic type beginning and the colorful as well as descriptive phrasings especially by the woodwinds and lower strings). a powerful masterpiece, "de profundis" (1941), was composed in response to the nazi occupation of czechoslovakia. interestingly, it has a couple of similarities with kodaly's "psalmus hungaricus" in that, apart from the large orchestra (with organ) required: 1) it has a very grim, serious, and tragic beginning, turning to hope and optimism, and 2) "de profundis" has biblical connotations embedded (the title "de profundis" was taken from the opening line psalm 130 "out of the depths have i cried"). kodaly's masterpiece has a greater sense of anger and defiance at the first two movements while novak's "de profundis" is mournful and tragic at its first movement (evoking smetana in particular). the second movement is likewise profound and provide a wonderful transition from anguish to light (the lightness exuberantly expressed in the finale). personally, i felt that novák could have added a chorus in this deep, profound work. it would have earned a more deeper and long lasting impression. libor pesek and the bbc philharmonic provide us with vivid, authoritative, and passionate performances throughout and i especially admire the organ playing in "de profundis." it's a pity that the organist was never mentioned anywhere in this recording (his name, by the way, is darius battiwalla). nevertheless, this enterprising disc is the type that should cast shame upon those refusing to explore beyond the "over-exposed" horizon. dare i hope for pesek to embark on novák's most important work, the cantata "the storm?"

Alfredo r. villanueva |

Simply awesome.

So, i am not a music historian or a music critic. i am a passionate listener, so i go with what my ears tell me. and this is definitely superb czech music. i am awed i had not found it before. libor pesek (sorry, i do not know how to do czech diacritics) is indubitably the best czech conductor of his generation, and the bbc philharmonic shimmers. but the music. the music. if you know czech history, de profundis will totally break your heart.