Reviews

Nox et Solitudo

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Only You Alone, Op. 57/6 [2:46]
He Loved Me So Much, Op. 28/4 [3:27]
I’ll Tell You Nothing, Op. 60/2 [2:32]
Was I Not a Little Blade of Grass in the Meadow?, Op. 47/7 [5:44]
Zemfira’s Song, Op. 90 [1:09]
None but the Lonely Heart, Op. 6/6 [3:00]
Forgive!, Op. 60/8 [3:38]
Does the Day Reign?, Op. 47/6 [4:01]

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

In Folk Tone, Op. 73 [11:18]
Four Songs, Op. 82 [10:18]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Four Serious Songs, Op. 121 [17:58]

Štefan Németh-ŠAMORÍNSKY (1896-1975)

Six Songs on Poems by Endre Ady [18:10]

Vladimír SOMMER (1921-1997)

Seven Songs, for mezzo-soprano and piano [18:45]

Eugen SUCHOŇ (1908-1993)

Nox et solitudo, song-cycle, Op. 4 [11:40]

Eva Garajová (mezzo), Marian Lapšanský (piano)

rec. Martinů Hall, Lichtenstein Palace, Prague, 2014
Russian (Cyrillic), Czech-English texts.
ARCODIVA UP0151-2 302 [66:25 + 50:23]

Németh was from the Hungarian-speaking part of the Austro-Hungarian empire which became part of Slovakia after the first world war. His choice of poems written between 1942 and 1944 by a popular Hungarian poet are a crucible for anguished, expressive settings. These limn the composer’s own late-life crisis and also function as a reminder that he studied in Budapest in the 1920s with Bartók.

Sommer sets Rilke, Alexander Blok and Sergei Yesenin in his 1981 cycle, haunted by death and regret. This leaves Suchon’s five-song cycle of 1932, written, under the watchful eye of his teacher Viteszlav Novák in an appealing late romantic style. Neither Sommer nor Suchon are any warmer or happier than Németh in their choice of poems.

Eva Garajová is a Slovakian mezzo who is unafraid of the lower registers of her voice. While secure at the top, it is these lower zones that really make this recital interesting, and which enervate her exploration of the Slavic repertoire, in particular. Her Tchaikovsky is exciting to listen to, tapping into the earthy, dark bass line of so many of the songs. On more than one occasion while listening to these songs, I found myself wondering how she would sound as the Countess in The Queen of Spades. He Loved me so much taps into a rich folkloric vein, and if Zemfira’s Song is a little on the histrionic side then None but the Lonely Heart makes up for it in terms of soulful evocation.

Dvořák’s Op. 73 folk-songs sound very good, and the Op. 82 ones even finer. Leave me alone has a lovely flow to it, in keeping with the song’s sentiment, and Over her embroidery has a quiet nobility that is most becoming. A real vein of darkness finds its way into the voice for the Four Serious Songs, entirely appropriately. These are very strong examples of word-painting, most especially in O Tod, wie bitter bist du though some transcendence is achieved in the final Wenn ich mit Menschen.

The second disc is devoted to Czech and Slovakian composers whose work, I imagine, is rarely heard beyond their homeland. Nemeth-Šamorínsky’s melodies are warm and approachable and, more often than not, effortlessly lyrical. There is a flow and onward momentum to his songs that puts me in mind of Dvořák; much more so than those of his teacher, Béla Bartók . The second song, I guard your eyes, is particularly moving, tracing the emotions of an old man. The fiery chariot is much more lively, though it is one of the rare moments on the disc where Garajova sounds a little strained at the top.

Vladimír Sommer’s work, on the other hand, is more experimental and edgy. The songs given here are mostly slow with spare accompaniments featuring bare chords or wandering solo lines, and repay careful attention The accompaniment of From one proximity to another, for example, sounds very close to Berg. That's indicative of most of his songs, especially the poetically and musically elliptical Song about a Cow. Garajová's voice here sounds more chilly; ghostly, even, at times. This, however, is entirely consonant with the colour of the music and happens to suit it rather well, though I admit that by the end of his sequence of songs I was struggling to tell one from another.

The music of Eugen Suchoň, on the other hand, straddles a neat middle-ground between the previous two. His song-cycle gives its title to the disc as a whole, and features some intense poems by Ivan Krasko, set to music that fits them very well and which is, by and large, lyrical with a melodramatic twist. It's growing dark, for example, features a high pitched crescendo to represent the speaker's fears, and Ballad is gently whimsical. An old romance, on the other hand, tells its simple story in a straightforwardly strophic, approachable way, and See the pale moon and Poplars are compelling in their sense of melodrama.

The accompanying booklet contains texts and English translations, though there is no transliteration of the Cyrillic for the Tchaikovsky songs. Irritatingly, though, the booklet is stuck into the middle of the cardboard CD sleeve, making it impossible to remove. This means you’ll have to find all manner of dextrous means of following the texts as you listen, if you choose to do so.

Simon Thompson


Dvořák, Křička, Martinů, Bartók

Eva Garajová - mezzo-soprano and Marian Lapšanský - piano

I am absolutely delighted that a lady with so fine a voice has been adopted by as good a label as ArcoDiva. Having made her acquaintance at the Leamington Festival some years ago, again accompanied by Marian Lapšanský, I have followed her career at a distance but with great interest. Here the full range of Miss Garajová’s voice is tested gully and found to be supreme in all that it tackles. One expects Songs my mother taught me to go well but the splendid musicality of both performers is shown at its very finest in the third of the Gypsy Songs, „All around the woods are still“. A great delicacy is demonstrated with a yearning range of dynamic and tender expression. It is probably the very best performance I have ever heard of this song.
I well remember Křička’s Severní noci from an old LP performance and this most welcome performance shows that Czech song deserves far more attention that it has received hitherto. These four songs are, quite simply, beautiful and in many ways are the most memorable items on the CD.
Martinů’s Two Songs, one by Apollinaire and one to Japanese poetry, are delightfully done, Dating from 1932, they are typical of that period of Martinů’s music.
The two sets of Bartók songs are also very well done. I know the Dedinské scény (Village Scenes) set from a Swedish CD but the performances here of Slovak folk texts are much better done by Garajová and Lapšanský. Both sets of songs stand out, both from Bartók’s own work and from the other songs on the CD. The Op. 16 set in particular are important as they are the first of Bartók’s exploration of Slovak folksong.
This is an exceptionally fine CD, with some very fine music performed by a pair that are well used to each other and I recommend it completely.

Peter Herbert, ArcoDiva


Falun (Dedinské scény) (Village Scenes)

Eva Garajová - mezzo-soprano and Marian Lapšanský - piano

The Slovak mezzo-soprano Eva Garajová has already come to the attention of some of our members, hearing her during Society visits to Bratislava. Of course, Marian Lapšanský needs no introduction to us, his musicianship as a solo pianist as well as his accomplished natural talent as an accompanist being very well known.

Here we have a well designed disc of an attractive repertoire, most of which is not so well known and three quarters being Czech. It is the Dvořák which will be familiar to most and Eva Garajová opens the seven song cycle of Gypsy Songs with a positive but felt statement of Má píseň zasmi láskou zní. Equally confident is her account of Aj! Kterak trojhranec můj přerozkošně zvoní which is the well contrsted with the gentler word-painting of A les je tichý kolem kol. The ever popular Když mne stará matka is sensitively sung but avoids sentimentality, given also a flowing accompaniment from Marian Lapšanský keeping the song moving forward. The shorter Struna naladěna and Široké rukávy provide welcome contrast, both happily kept rhythmically uplifted, while Dejte klec jestřábu round off the cycle in a fine commanding, ringing style.

Jaroslav Křička (1882-1969) was a pupil of Vítězslav Novák but found this teacher rather domineeringly restrictive in his teaching. Křička escaped to Berlin and then Russia, where he came under the positive influence of Rimsky-Korsakov. Out of this contact came artistic and creative release, one product of which was the group of four songs Opus 14 collectively known as Severní noci and recorded here. Each of the songs on Konstantin Balmont texts is a beautifully and deeply felt setting of the words with an atmospherically sensitive accompaniment, very well executed by Garajová and Lapšanský, making one wonder why these songs are not better known. Bohuslav Martinů, for all his enormous output, is not known particularly as a composer of songs – although the Songs on One Page [H.294] and Songs on Two Pages [H.302] are attractive vocal miniatures and his attention to folk sources in his songs is well heard in Nový Špalíček [H.288]. The two songs of 1932 recorded here are something of exceptions, dating from his Paris years and his contact with the latest movements in the arts. At the same time he explored literature and here we have the result of two contacts – one with Japanese poetry and the other with the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, both concerned with aspects of time and both written in a relaxed, contented and even happy manner before the fateful years of exile overtook their composer. Both are given beautiful performances by soloist and accompanist and, for me, from the high point of this disc. Our Slovak artists look eastwards to Hungary to complete their recorded recital with Béla Bartók’s Five Songs (Op.16) and then a further five songs which make up the Village Scenes, this latter group from 1924 being appropriately based on Slovak folklore from the Zvolen area. The Five Songs of Opus 16 are powerfully meditative, serious art songs and owe little to folk sources but the Village Scenes group betray more distinct Bartókian fingerprints in settings with Slovak roots, nowhere better demonstrated than in the spirited rendering of the final Tanec mládencov (Lad’s Dance). Oncer again the performances are of high quality, making an impressive conclusion to an enjoyably rewarding and fascinating disc.

Graham Melville-Mason

English