MILOSLAV KABELÁČ (1908–1979) : Mystery of Time: Passacaglia for Large Orchestra, Op. 31 (1953–57), Hamlet Improvisation for Large Orchestra, Op. 46 (1962–63), Reflections. Nine Miniatures for Orchestra, Op. 49 (1963–64), Metamorphoses II of the oldest Czech Hymn “Hospodine, pomiluj ny“ for Piano and Orchestra Op. 58 (1972, rev. 1979) Miroslav Sekera - piano (Metamorphoses), Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, cond. Marko Ivanović
Catalogue Number: 10Y004
Description: This is an essential release, and more than welcome as a supplement to the pioneering set of his complete symphonies issued in 2016 (10S001), which amply warranted its position as our cover item that October. Relatively unknown outside the Czech Republic, in his homeland Kabeláč is rightly regarded as the most important composer of the generation after Martinů, largely on account of his stunning cycle of symphonies, each one strikingly distinct from each other and charting an evolution in his compositional style while remaining remarkably consistent in their adherence to tonality and in their brooding, tenebrous atmosphere punctuated by battering paroxysms of relentless violence. Suppressed by the Nazis in occupied Czechoslovakia, and then by the Soviets in 1948 and again in 1968, and witness to much of the worst of the 20th century, his music is an eloquent testament and protest of well-nigh unparalleled intensity and power, and despite the single-mindedness of his dark vision, he notably never repeated himself, and if he lacked the range of expression of Shostakovich - the composer to whom he is most readily compared - at his best he is the Russian master's equal in the forceful vehemence of his protesting voice. Superb as the symphonies are, the astonishing 25-minute Mystery of Time: passacaglia for large orchestra (1953-57), is their equal in expressive force. The title is ambiguous and intriguing; it implies some sort of cosmological meditation, but that is not the nature of the music, so maybe it was applied to the piece to throw the authoritarian watchdogs off the scent. The music fades in over an ominous pulsating rhythmic ostinato, breathlessly calm and tense. Unanticipated modulations and a gradual quickening of pulse subtly destabilise the flow as the variations gradually accumulate texture. The conductor describes the work as a "single gigantic dramatic arch, which must be built up in terms of tempo and dynamics" and this challenge to the performers is heightened just short of the mid-point of the work’s huge span by the emergence of the music onto the battlefield in a passage of cumulative momentum and fury unlike anything else in the repertoire - still inexorably accelerating and crescendoing toward the final cataclysmic climax. Here, though, is no triumph, no resolution; the music simply fades back into the shadows whence it came. Hamlet Improvisations for large orchestra was written to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. No better composer than Kabeláč could have been found to illustrate Shakespeare's death-saturated tragedy. In this substantial dramatic symphonic poem, the looming shadows of Elsinore castle, the eerie apparition, distant rumours of wars, the pitiable figure of Ophelia, and the themes of madness and violence that run throughout the play are represented with cinematic clarity. Memorable thematic gestures are used as leitmotifs throughout the episodes of the work, delineating the drama without following a programmatic narrative sequence. The nine brief Reflections sound like a primer of Kabeláč's vocabulary; the relentless rhythmic patterns, the sequences of minor triads, the episodes of beautiful but haunted calm, the brutally battering percussion, the rich, inventive orchestral textures - all are here in miniature. The work as a whole is much more than the sum of the parts, though; the movements are so diverse and eventful that they form a cohesive suite with its own mysterious dramaturgy. Metamorphoses II on the oldest Czech hymn Hospodine, pomiluj ny (Lord, Have Mercy On Us), for piano and orchestra was Kabeláč's final work, completed just weeks before he died. True to form, the idiom is recognisably of the continuum of Kabeláč's evolving style, with a greater use of (relative) extremes of dissonance than the earlier works. The music contrives to sound quite unlike anything else of Kabeláč's, though. The hymn is reiterated throughout the six succinct movements, which are effectively variations, in the manner of plainchant, with the piano as cantor. The pealing of bells is often evoked - the timbres of the penultimate movement are truly remarkable - and the work has an austere, hieratic sense of ritual, as though gazing into the beyond.