The soul of Bohemia: familiar masterpieces and little-known gems for string ensemble by the five most famous Czech composers of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The affection and vigour of Dvorák’s Serenade for Strings has kept its freshness while many other works from the same era have receded into obscurity. This performance by the Ciconia Consort lends it a new lease of life: as rhythmically springy and attentive to detail as the ensembles previous, critically acclaimed explorations of the string-orchestra repertoire of France, England, the US and Germany in beautifully curated themes.
Janáček’s Suite for Strings is an early work, Romantic in character and recognisably descended from the String Serenades of Dvorák and Tchaikovsky, but nonetheless characteristic of the composer’s quirky language with its adoption of Czech speech rhythms. In 1931, Martinů was also inspired by Czech folk melodies when writing his Partita as a Czech émigré in faraway Paris. However, Martinů develops these melodies in a modern style reminiscent of Béla Bartók. Without slow movements, intimacy, or a poetic character, the character of the suite as a whole is spicy, tough and extrovert: inimitably Martinů.
Smetana scored his tone-picture Rybář (The Fisherman), for harmonium, harp, and strings: it is a musical ‘tableau vivant’ after Goethe’s poem Der Fischer, which describes a fisherman who is overpowered by the mysterious and magical pull of the water. The theme of Rybář and Smetana’s haunting translation into music also make it a kind of study for his evocation of the river Vltava in Ma Vlast. A little more familiar is the grave Meditation on the Hymn to St Wenceslas by Dvorák’s student and son-in-law, Josef Suk, in which the old melody is treated like a family heirloom.
‘Dick van Gasteren directs the players with a sure hand. The recorded sound is warm, with a certain degree of plush resonance... this definitely makes for enjoyable listening; cordially recommended.’ Fanfare (‘Rheingold’, 96426)
‘I enjoyed this disc greatly… The Ciconia Consort does Castérède proud, dispatching the counterpoint in the finale with relish.’ Fanfare (French Music for String Orchestra, 95734)
- In Slavic Rhapsody Ciconia Consort presents both known and unknown works for string ensemble by the five most famous Czech composers of the 19th and 20th centuries: Dvořák, Janáček, Smetana, Martinů and Suk. Due to an increased interest in its own folk-music, the rhapsody became an important musical form for Slavic composers from the middle of the 19th century. The word ‘rhapsody’ is derived from the Greek ‘rhapsōidos’ (classical professional performer of epic poetry in ancient Greece). At first, the musical rhapsody manifested itself as a song form, though later, in the middle of the 19th century, an instrumental form also appeared in the grand symphonic rhapsody. Rhapsodic music (in either form or subject) is made up of contrasting styles and moods, often with a theme common to folk melodies, interweaving the improvisational rhapsodic elements within traditional musical forms.
- This recording is the 4th CD on Brilliant Classics of the Ciconia Consort (The Hague String Orchestra), a Dutch string orchestra conducted by Dick van Gasteren, an internationally active conductor, who was Bernard Haitink’s assistant during the Mahler Festival Amsterdam in 1995 Critical praise for the Ciconia Consort on Brilliant Classics: ‘The Ciconia Consort does Castérède proud, dispatching the counterpoint in the finale with relish… I enjoyed this disc greatly.’ Fanfare (French Music, 95734), ‘The Ciconia Consort, resident at the Hague, are a fine ensemble, and this collection will not disappoint.’ MusicWeb International (American Pioneers, 96086).