Pontem Video - Concerto for Organ, Strings & Percussion
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.
Contact address: QuattroSylvie Bodorova, Valentova 1731, 149 00 Praha 4,
tel./fax.: + 420 - 2 - 7921743 e-mail:
email@example.com 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.