Encore: Two impressive recent recordings offer a broader picture of Czech classical music


In Encore today we review two recent CD releases. One is an anthology covering the best part of a millennium of Czech music, and the other a celebration of the work of one of the most undeservedly neglected Czech 20th century composers, Vitezslava Kapralova.

A new anthology of 800 years of Czech music

It is not often you have the chance to hear some of the very earliest known examples of Czech music. A Slavonic chant, sung by David Eben and the Schola Gregoriana Pragensis, going back the best part of a millennium, is one of the first tracks on a wonderful new survey of Czech music, a five CD anthology just released by the Czech Music Information Center. It is full of amazing stuff. For example there is a Hussite "protest song" from the early 1400s, called "O Council of Constance" written after the Church had Jan Hus burned at the stake.

There is also a sizable booklet to accompany the recording. If you want a compact course in the history of Czech music, in English as well as Czech, this is it. The anthology is priced well too - something like 700 crowns, or 25 euros.

One CD in the collection is devoted to the years 1200 to 1800. Six hundred years of music represented on one disc does suggest something of an imbalance, but you can also see the collection as a sampler, a jumping-off point. See if you like Adam Michna z Otradovic, for example, who is perhaps the first Czech composer of real stature, or Vejvanovsky or Harant z Polcic.

The set is heavily weighted toward music from the 20th century. Two of the CDs are devoted to it, although there is one disc of 19th century music, which interestingly features lesser known works by major composers such as Smetana and Dvorak. Dvorak's symphonic poem "The Noon Witch" is well worth a listen.

The fifth disc contains Czech and Moravian folk music, including historical recordings made by musicologists who went around villages at the turn of the century getting people to sing or play. This is something that Leos Janacek did too. He collected folk songs, and they very much influenced his own work. Janacek fans can probably hear some familiar rhythms, textures and melodic inflections in some of these recordings.

Vitezslava Kapralova: "Portrait of the Composer"

This is a CD devoted to the works of the composer Vitezslava Kapralova, a marvelously gifted woman who died when she was only 25, in 1940.

This year she would be celebrating her 90th birthday. Studio Matous has put out a "Portrait of the Composer" CD containing orchestral, chamber and solo works, and an informative booklet.

Kapralova studied with Martinu in Paris. He proposed they each set the same text - for fun. On the CD we can hear both his and her version, with Lenka Skornickova, soprano, and Jitka Drobilkova, piano - an exquisite recording.

Kapralova was evidently ebulliently confident in her talents, and ready to go out and conquer the world. She did many things unheard of for women of her time, not only composing, but conducting her own works. People remember her as full of fun, full of life.

One of her pieces is a setting of a poem which reads "Farewell, and if we don't meet again, it was beautiful, and it was enough." It would be nice to think of her life that way - as beautiful, and enough, though 25 years seems hardly enough.

You can learn more about her music at the Kapralova Society website www.kapralova.org

CDs reviewed in this programme are provided by Siroky Dvur



Magic Carpet - world music in the heart of Europe

Petr DoruzkaPetr Doruzka Magic Carpet is Radio Prague's monthly music magazine that looks at music from Czech, Moravian and Silesian towns and villages. The programme covers a wide selection of genres, from traditional folk to the exotic and experimental.

It is presented by Petr Doruzka, one of the Czech Republic's foremost music journalists.

For copyright reasons we are unable to archive the programmes in audio, but here at least are a few words about some of the recordings featured recently in the programme.


30.1.2005: A trip to Slovakia
More than 10 years after the partition of Czechoslovakia many Czechs consider Slovakia a strong musical inspiration, while Slovak musicians see Czech audiences as a potential and friendly market. The Bratislava band Jej dru¾ina (Her escort) made their well received debut three years ago, inspired by the rich heritage of Slovak folk songs. Soon afterwards this highly respected band split in two equally interesting parts, and both made new albums recently. But it's not only local musicians who collect folk songs in Slovakia. Nowadays, musicians from Hungary, like the Fono Folk Band, are looking over the border to find more about the music heritage of both Slovaks and the Hungarian minorities living in Southern Slovakia.

2.1.2005: The best of 2004
In the first Magic Carpet of 2005, you'll hear some rare and unusual albums of 2004 which didn't fit into the previous programmes. Cankisou (pronounced "Chankishow") from Brno "rediscovered" the mysterious tribe of the Chanki people, famous for their devotional and ritual songs. Banana is led by the young female singer of mixed Italian-Ukrainian origin, who calls herself Vladivojna La Chia. If you miss the bad girls of the punk rock era, Vladivojna will be be a singer of your choice. Ahmet má Hlad (Ahmet is Hungry) is an 8 piece band mixing clarinets and accordion with electric guitars, and playing crazy adaptations of folk songs from all Eastern Europe. And NUO stands for The Art ensemble from Nusle, a hard driving and flexible jazz band. Their first album, Multimusic Miniband, reaches from funk to electronica.

Terne ChaveTerne Chave 5.12.2004: Terne Chave, Gypsy roots with a future
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain 15 years ago, one of the most interesting exports from East European countries has been Gypsy music: wedding brass orchestras from Serbia, cymbalom and fiddle bands from Romania and Hungary. In the Czech Republic, Gypsy music is on the rise too, but often it sounds very different from the style of our East European neighbours. Terne Chave has earned a reputation as a great live band. Their new album, Kai Dzas (Where are we going), gives us a flavour of where Gypsy music may be going.

Link: Terne Chave live

The mean fiddlers from MoraviaThe mean fiddlers from Moravia 7.11.2004: The mean fiddlers from Moravia
The violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin, who died in 1999, once said: "When we think about the violin, we think about the tradition of Stradivarius. But we forget the violin is derived from a folk music instrument, the fiddle." Jiri Plocek, Czech researcher and musician, comments: "There is a link between fiddlers from Moravia, my home region, and fiddlers from Scotland or Scandinavia. Their music is vibrant and sparkles with energy." Plocek's musical partner Jitka Suranska, explains: "This is a very different style than playing with a symphony orchestra, which is my second job. But playing with Jiri opens a new door for me: playing from the heart."

Link: www.mujweb.cz/www/gnosis_brno

TrabandTraband 10.10.2004: Anybody who travelled east before the fall of the Iron Curtain remembers the Trabant. A funny little car with a motorcycle engine manufactured in Eastern Germany. The word Trabant was used in many jokes. In a slightly transformed form, it serves as a name for a band. Yes, Traband, with a D, is a band with a strong sense of humour, and contrary to the Trabant car, they have a lot of energy to spare - and also some remarkable musical ideas. Recently Traband finished a new album, which is ready for release. On their past albums Traband have always used a unifying theme behind their songs, so I asked the leader, singer and composer Jarda Svoboda, what is the concept of their new CD? "It's called Hyje, which means 'Go horses!'. The songs are full of knights, horsemen of Apocalypse, riders and golden chariots." Despite the fact that Traband has existed for 10 years, they are not a band who can fill a stadium, and I am also sure this is not their ambition. Yet they are quite successful abroad - they often play in France and recently they returned from the first tour of Japan. Even though Traband put a great deal of energy into their lyrics, you do not have to speak Czech to enjoy their music.

Link: www.traband.net

DocukuDocuku 12.09.2004: The Eastern part of the Czech Republic, close to the Slovak border, happens to be very fertile source of traditional music. Up in the north, the wooded highlands once were sheltering thieves and outlaws. To make this region safer, four centuries ago the land was offered to farmers and shepherds who also functioned as a border patrol. Most of the settlers came from the East, even from Romania. This newly populated region was given the name Wallachia, after the historical name for the Romanian kingdom. Today, their descendants speak Czech, but the region is known for its distinguished wooden architecture, sheep herding and also music. The Wallachian ensemble Docuku could be seen as a regional all star band. The set-up features a violin player, who's also leader of one of the best local cymbalom bands, Solan. The drummer used to play with a well-known Czech rock band Mnaga & Zdorp for 10 years. And one of the key members of Docuku is a gifted young woman, who sings and plays mandolin: Lucie Redlova, the daughter of veteran foksinger Vlasta Redl. Their first album was released this summer, featuring contemporary arrangements of folk songs.

Link: www.docuku.centrala.org

Magic Carpet Archive


See also:
Gypsy music - a rediscovered heritage?
Reinventing folk music with the Moberg Ensemble
No respect for borders from Quakvarteto

The History of Music