Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Pontem Video - Concerto for Organ, Strings & Percussion (1983)
Plankty Music for Viola & Symphony orchestra (1982)
Tre canzoni da suonare for Guitar and Strings (1985)
Magikon Concerto for Oboe & Strings (1987)
Dignitas homini String Quartet No. 1 (1987)
Ventimiglia Music for Trumpet & Percussion (1992)
Prague Symphony Orchestra/Jiri Belohlavek (Pontem & Plankty)
Virtuosi Di Praga/Oldrich Vlcek (Tre Canzoni)
Suk Chamber Orchestra/Petr Skvor (Magikon)
Stamic Quartet (Dignitatis homini)
Prague Percussion Group/Amy Lynn Barber (Ventimiglia)
Vera Hermanova (organ)
Jan Peruska (viola)
Lubomir Brabec (guitar)
Jiri Vodnansky (oboe)
Miroslav Kejmar (trumpet)
Rec - unknown?
CD Number not known [79.58]
[This appears to be a private promotional issue and some of these recordings are available on the Panton discs also reviewed today. LM]
Contact address: QuattroSylvie Bodorova, Valentova 1731, 149 00 Praha 4, Czech Republic
tel./fax.: + 420 - 2 - 7921743 e-mail: Subject: Quattro

A most attractive disc, one put out by the composer herself. As you'd guess from the above, assembling facts about Bodorova has proved a detection game. A single-sheet sleeve, with a fetching 1995 photo portrait, the only vague means of dating or placing her; and a backsheet with sticker. The sticker shouts 'Quattro' and names Bodorova, Lubos Fiser (1935-99), Zdenek Lukas, Otmar Macha, as belonging to some Worshipful Company, fit though few. Fiser's just died, and one imagines the group was of an age. Bodorova uses the reverse side of the front cover to proclaim her credo in Czech and English. 'We are here so that we may illuminate things from a different angle.'

She doesn't quite manage that, as another unproclaimed fact emerges. It's almost certain that Bodorova composed film scores through the latter years of the regime. The works here, mostly concertante, are the attractive dramaturge to express a true individuality. The only impediment is a dramatic, narrative fluency in post-Bartókian, all-purpose Eastern bloc style. The advantage is a real melodic gift, an acute ear for striking sonorities, some harmonic resource, an ability to build and sustain climaxes over a quarter of an hour and, most of all, a lack of inhibition. This view is based on hearing the works recorded here, mainly dating from 1982-87 in this essentially chronological survey. Only the last piece is from 1992. Now that the snobbery about film-composers and their idiom is vanishing, Bodorova can emerge as a fine composer.

The Organ Concerto has a memorable dipping and rising figure in fourths, against a real Morriconi-like percussion. Once Upon a Time in the East. It builds impressively, if not without a real dash of vulgarity: tabasco and brimstone. The Viola Concerto might have been a better opener: a fine work, with the orchestra cleverly slimmed down and using striking percussion effects that don't drown the viola but still unleash a loud enough sound world. A falling/rising figure dominates the melodic frame, coming from the viola. A sustained climax follows. The Guitar Concerto in all but name again slims the orchestra back to strings and neatly shimmers to the close-miked guitar. After a fairly breezy but not fast 'Canzone d'arpertura' a Rodrigo-like 'Canzone d'amour' is followed in the 'Canzone di chiusura' by a rush of violins in a leaping figure reminiscent of Jupiter of all things. The Oboe Concerto for the same forces is briefer (at 10.16 minutes) than anything else, with a quietly memorable theme. It establishes a world not far removed from the Viola Concerto (as I presume to christen it). Opening slowly, as so many oboe concertos do, it rises in tempo and volume to an attractive, dance-like finale. This is rather reminiscent of English composers. Finzi came to mind.

The next item really illustrates roots, as string quartets have a habit of doing. This is post-Janacek, with all the narrative tensions of his First, (Bodorova, has written a Second in the 90s). It opens with subtle inflections and a world not far removed from Schnittke's; imagine a Czech Schnittke. Their film-writing in common perhaps (someone will tell me she never wrote for films, and I won't believe them). A tutti call to attention is soon fined down to ruminations by the leader which in turn give way to a series of meditations. These are dramatic, and again with an undulating support straight out of sinister, espionage films; excellent for Le Carré in darker Prague. With a very effective sonority, Bodorova sets a sure pace that never falters; it holds one's attention. Ostinato-rhythms come to the fore, sounding in their repetitions almost Nyman-esque; with far more variety. But the shift from solo to two or more players pitted against the others' sonorities, make this a kind of concerto for string quartet at times, especially in the central section. Touches of Smetana's First and Second quartets meld into post-Janacek, and post-Haba, Haas, and Krasa. This reminds us what the world lost in Czech composers in the mid-century: Haba alone remained, Martinu exiled. The title 'Dignitas homini' hauntingly tells us Bodorova might regard this as a threnody on the thwarted dignity of many compatriots.

Finally a Trumpet Concerto of sorts rises with oracular noises-on from the soloist. Is this the way Bodorova has gone? In one sense it's inevitable that she's liberated herself as a composer, free to experiment with what she likes. But the high jinks wear thin - she has the talent but not the compulsion for this. It's valid, but in her case seems grease-paint stuck on for effect. The title might justify it, but too bad. The melodic material is good enough without it, and this work sustains the high level of the preceding works.

Bodorova is a fine composer, stagy at times, but memorable, And ultimately, whatever fashion trickles through the ex-Eastern Bloc, it's this quality, with hindsight, that distinguishes the grey from the evergreen in a conservative sound-world. Excellent performances, and line-up - Jiri Belohlavek conducting the first two items. Recommendation enough.

Simon Jenner

and John France adds:

Let me get the major criticism out of the way. There are no programme notes with this CD. Not even a brief résumé of the composer's career. The only nod in this direction is a brief 'manifesto' from Sylvie herself. It does not amount to more than a hundred words.

If I see a CD in a Record Store and it interests me, but the music and/or the composer is an unknown quantity, I have to resort to either the CD guides or more obviously, read the 'sleeve' notes. If these notes tell me the piece is atonal or aleatory or written in the style of Billy Mayerl - at least I know where I stand. I can make a judgement. I can decide whether or not to part with my £15.99 on a whim.

For a composer who is relatively unknown in the English speaking world, (at least to those listeners who do not normally 'do' contemporary music) some kind of introduction is required. Even if this is only the date of birth. The only other minor criticism is that there are no recording dates or venues provided.

That being said, I will give a brief outline of the composer. Sylvie Bodorova was born in 1954 in a place called Ceske Budejovice. She had an excellent musical education, studying composition first at the Bratislava Conservatoire and then at the Janacek Academy in Brno and later completing post-graduate studies at the Music Academy in Prague. Further studies in Poland, Sienna & Amsterdam completed her education. During the 1990s her career has had two major directions. As a composer and as a teacher of composition. She taught at her old alma mater, the Janacek Academy and was composer in residence for two years at the CCM Cincinnati, Ohio.

Perhaps her most unusual claim to fame is that one of her works was performed in the Antarctic. This was her Homage to Columbus- Elegy for Guitar Solo. But this is disingenuous. Her works have been performed in many countries throughout the world. There is also a small store of recordings of her works.

Bodorova has written in many different styles. A brief look at her 'catalogue' shows an almost equal interest in chamber music and orchestral works. There are a number of concerti - including for violin, viola and organ. She has composed at least three string quartets.

It is interesting to consider what inspires this composer. Obviously she has absorbed the 'classical' tradition, as well as the music of her native composer forbears. She enjoyed making a special study of the works of J.S. Bach. The European avant-garde and the Polish 'School' have influenced her. However like many composers from the Balkans, folk music rates high in her list of influences. She has used rhythms and melodic invention from Gypsy music.

Rather than describe each piece in detail - which is difficult to do without the scores; I will try to give an overview of Bodorova's style, and with reference to the works on this CD.

The piece that impressed me most was the String Quartet No.1 Dignitas Homini. This was written when her son was three and when she was thinking deeply about his future. Much of the stylistic comment on this work can be applied generally.

There is no doubt that she creates beautiful music. Sometimes there is warmth - but more often than not there is a sense of desolation. There is often a yearning after some unidentifiable goal. Her approach to writing for strings is exceptional. She shows confidence and a complete understanding of the medium.

In Plankty for viola and symphony orchestra, this confidence in string writing is most evident. There is no embarrassment about allowing a single line to have its head. She can provide rich harmonies when required. But if a viola wants to sing unaccompanied - it will.

In all the works here there is a sense of economy. She does not write anything that is not essential to the argument and discourse. Yet this economy reveals the power of her writing. It is most obvious in Ventimiglia for trumpet and percussion. There is much contrast in mood. Everything with the exception of the piece for guitar and strings reveals aggressive moments - typified by repetitions and ostinatos. Then there are lyrical, almost classical, phrases. Sometimes, the music is romantic and one thinks of Suk and Janacek.

If we consider Video Pontem the concerto for organ, strings and percussion - my schoolboy Latin memories assure me it means 'I see the Bridge' we find many features typical of Bodorova's style. He we have a four-square tune in the organ. Much of the score reminds one of film music - the 'English Patient' springs to mind. She makes use of harmonic and contrapuntal tools all the way from clusters to unisons. Yet the balance of styles is good. The resulting sound is effective and quite enjoyable.

Magikon again points up the composer's confidence in using a variety of contrasting styles. From the opening 'cantilena' on solo oboe - through more dramatic pages full of dissonance. Some of this music has a 'pastoral' innocence - some of it is imbued with an agony more appropriate to early Penderecki. Once again idiomatic string writing is well in evidence.

One minor criticism is that sometimes she seems to spoil the 'argument' of a piece where the 'development' section is held up for want of ideas. But that is a criticism common to many composers - even the 'greats'.

Another side of the composer is revealed in the Tre canzoni da suonare for guitar and strings. In fact it could almost be called a 'concerto'. Here Bodorova uses every guitar technique - all the way from 'classic' Spanish to Rock and Roll via J.S.B. and even a touch of 'bluegrass' - and why not? I was thinking of Malcolm Arnold when listening to this piece. Not that it is necessarily similar - just that here we have two composers that are prepared to use any idiom at their disposal to produce enjoyable and satisfying music. Will it be taken up by one of the great guitar soloists? I hope so. This piece would offer a credible alternative to the Rodrigo Concerto; excellent but overplayed.

The 'pop' side is also shown in Ventimiglia for trumpet and percussion. There are 'dance' rhythms in the percussion - a Latin feel drifts across this piece from time to time.

How can I sum up? Bodorova brings confidence, technical competency and urgency to her music. There is nothing to frighten those folk who believe that everything written after the First World War is 'un-listenable'. Much of her music is frankly tonal, or at least gives that impression. She is not afraid of using diatonic themes or progression if it suits her case. She can write memorable sometimes even predictable tunes. Yet she is capable of exhibiting greater freedom of textures and melodies when this is what the structure requires.

If I was to give a stylistic equivalent - which I actually loathe to do it would be this: - Janacek meets Penderecki (post-1985) and shakes hands with Vaughan Williams.

But Sylvie Bodorova does not need to be compared to any composer living or dead. She has her own language and she is fluent. Like her or not one cannot escape the fact that here is one of the leading Balkan composers at the height of her powers. This CD is a very strong introduction to her music. The programme is imaginative and varied. The playing is excellent and entirely sympathetic to her style.

John France

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