Gramophone reviews Czech modernist Novak

Gramophone magazine (gramophone.co.uk) has been a leading authority in Classical music criticism for ninety years. Its reviews are an invaluable resource to anyone trying to make sense of the seemingly infinite number of Classical recordings available, and a number of the recordings that we offer have been reviewed in its pages.

Gramophone critic Ivan March has recently reviewed one of our titles, Vitezslav Novak: In the Tatras; South Bohemian Suite; Eight Nocturnes (ALC-1999, please click here) performed by the Carlsbad Symphony Orchestra conducted by Douglas Bostock, featuring soprano Daniela Straková on the Nocturnes.  Unfortunately, the whole review is only available in the print magazine or in the subscribers-only portion of their website, but I have reproduced it below. Enjoy!

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Vitezslav Novák (1870-1949) is a Czech composer little known to me but one with a richly lyrical melodic vein and control of atmosphere. He might be placed together with Josef Suk and next to Dvorak, if not quite their equal. In the Tatras is an atmospherically gloomy tone-poem, its flowing lines and glowing evocation combined with a folklore-derived melodic influence. It pictures the misty Ostry mountains during a storm, at first ferocious but finally returning to peace with the setting sun. The South Bohemian Suite has much of Dvorak’s lively romantic patriotism, moving from its ‘Pastoral’ (a set of variations) and delightful ‘Reverie’ to its centrepiece, an evocation of the marching of the Hussite armies in the defence of the Czech people in the 15th century, a reminder of the Nazi expansion into German-speaking Sudetenland regions in modern times. As an epilogue Novák quotes a hymn-like sequence touchingly mirroring the Czech national anthem.

The Nocturnes for voice and orchestra (1908) show Novak above all as a poet. Here he has the advantage of Daniela Straková as his sweetvoiced soloist; the simple beauty of her singing is matched by a delightful upper range. Opening with the twinkling ‘Stars in the Water’, the effect is ravishing, not least in the final ‘Christ Child’s Lullaby’ which has much in common with Mahler‘s setting of the ‘Wiegenlied’ from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

Throughout, the Carlsbad Symphony Orchestra plays with a rich patina of tone. Douglas Bostock obviously loves this repertoire, as well as being at one with Novák’s music. The well-balanced recording is difficult to resist and this triptych is highly recommended on the Alto super-budget label.

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To learn more about Novák and other Czech composers in the Alto/Musical Concepts catalogue, click here to read an earlier blog post about Czech Piano Classics.