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BODOROVA (1954-)
Tre canzoni da suonare for Guitar and Strings (1980-85) [16.53]
Concerto: Donna nobis lucem for voice, violin, guitar and strings (1995) [10.55]
FISER (1935-99)
Sonata per Leonardo for Guitar and Strings (1994) [6.47]
Pastorale on Giuseppe Tartini for Guitar and Strings (1995) [9.56]
MACHA (1922-)
Christmas Concerto for Guitar and Strings (1995) [12.24]
Lubomir Brabec (guitar)
Vaclav Hudecek (violin, 9)
Zdena Kloubova (soprano, 9)
Prague Chamber PO/Jiri Belohlavek
rec. 30-31. 8. 96, Domovina Studio, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU 3272-2 031 [56.50]
Koch International
Charlote House , 87 Little Ealing Lane, London W5 4 EH
tel.: +44(0)181 832 1800
fax.: +44(0)181 832 1813

At last we can hear something of the recently deceased Lubos Fiser (1935-99), whose works betray a post-Martinu expressiveness and weight. These are, as their titles suggest (and everything was put into titular Italian) avowedly programmatic homages to the baroque, a 'diatonic tonal frame abounding with dramatic interjections'. They're very attractive with baroque scherzando passages of Tartini and Vivaldiesque vintage, transformed as in Rodrigo's own neo-world. It's difficult for the guitar to be otherwise. Tippett, in his Second Symphony and Corelli Fantasia made other use of these scurrying passages when he heard Vivaldi at Radio Lugano in 1950. I do miss something tougher here, but that isn't the point. I also miss, too, the hint of another Fiser, composer of his Eighth and last Piano Sonata shortly before his death. This CD came out before that, and describes him in poignantly healthy terms.

Sylvie Bodorova, born in 1954, is the youngest of the three and on the evidence of a flurry of CDs, the most active in sensible self-promotion. Fiser has had high claims made for him, 'a notable genius of the 20th century' claimed a CD of piano music played by Martin Kasik reviewed earlier.

Bodorova's Guitar Concerto, in all but name, slims the orchestra back to strings as it does in her viola concertante work; but very 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. This is some of the most attractive music on the disc, more like Rodrigo, and some film tracks (The Deer Hunter) than Fiser, but I think real substance.

Otmar Macha, one hopes, has escaped the Grim Reaper, the final deletions axe, for the moment, but is 79 this year if he has. His guitar-unseasonal Christmas Concerto work is more melancholy, with subsumed Good King Wenceslas in the first movement. This is more a mood than a quotation, but there is also a more direct quote of 'Stille Nacht', a unifying principle, one of German-speaking Czechs, and of the hymn's universality. This is affectingly done. The finale ruminates with subdued celebrations, but this allegro is mainly very attractive with high spirits and a catchy theme laid out on the guitar and elaborated. The minor-keyed melancholy is inlaid here too, and again adds weight to the work, a touch of Martinu at his more questing, merely a whiff, before the rondo-form whisks us away. An attractive occasional work that doesn't tell us quite enough about the composer. What it does tell is good, a solid and melodically gifted composer, working here in a wholly traditional mode, a little less risky than Malcolm Arnold.

Finally Bodorova returns for her Concerto: Dona nobis lucem for voice, violin, guitar and strings (1995), an 11 minute piece that works out a kind of redemption for voice, violin, and guitar. The stirrings open with an extraordinary high-pitched etching like birds high up, and something of the sonority of Schnittke's quartets, or in a flash, even Ferneyhough's. This is momentary, as the main body of strings pitch in soon enough, with a gently keening soprano. Still, the high-pitched ones return. This is what makes Bodorova the most forward-looking composer, but too, the most adventurous. I'd almost say the most gifted but I've now heard far more of her work than the others here. Fiser remains someone we still need to know.

Otherwise, I think the mix alternates well enough, with the violin sawing in with a dogged cadenza. This is well-dispatched by Vaclav Hudecek. But here the guitar is just a touch kitschy, which mode Bodorova veers towards several times. It reminds one of the second movement of Gorecki's Third Symphony, and remind one too that she studied in Gdansk. But there's something too (set lower) of the end of Vaughan Williams' third, the Pastoral, with soprano vocalise. Bodorova provides a moving climatic rising of soprano and strings, without the tasty jangle. It ends a little more stridently than either the VW or Gorecki 3, and, I think, with strength. It symbolises an aspiration towards 'celestial heights'. The soprano Zdena Kloubova really belts out the high C# at the end.

Fine performances from the soloist Lubomir Brabec, very well-accompanied and more than that by the Prague Chamber PO under Jiri Belohlavek. And very fine sound. But this is Supraphon reborn. This is quite a cut above the popular contemporary music easier-listening guitar repertoire. Good booklet, and worth acquiring to try on friends sceptical about contemporary music of any hue, and particularly Czech music.

Simon Jenner

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