Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Le tombeau de Couperin [21.23]
Luboš SLUKA (b.1928)
Gabbione per due usignuoli [4.31]
Pieces en forme de Habanera [2.47]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Arabesque No.2 [4.17]
Pavane pour une infante défunte [5.31]
Kateřina Englichová (harp)
Vilém Veverka (oboe)
rec. Czech Brethren Evangelical Church, Prague-Vinohrady, 2016
SUPRAPHON SU4212-2 [59.59]
If, on my desert island, I were permitted to have recordings of only two instruments, I think I would specify the harp and oboe, so this CD is a special delight for me, especially when the players are as accomplished as here. And both instruments have been prominent in French music – in the orchestrated version of Le tombeau de Couperin, both instruments have major roles.
Of course, the French pieces here are arrangements. Le tombeau de Couperin (arranged by Otomar Kvěch) contains the technically demanding toccata, and there are benefits from the clarity offered by these two instruments. The Pavane pour une infante défunte (arranged by Faith Carman), and a particularly moving work, has similar benefits – the plangent quality of the oboe is both apposite and touching. Faith Carman also arranged the brief Pieces en forme de Habanera – which works well.
The four pieces from Debussy were orchestrated by Susan Jolles and Humbert Lucarelli, and were, for me, the highlight of the disc. Rêverie is characterful, and I was fascinated by the sense of equality between the instruments as the harp picked up the melody. The Arabesque No 2 (from Deux arabesques) is, I think, less profound but works very well. The ‘Menuet’ and ‘Prélude’ will both be familiar from Suite bergamasque, yet the new guise reveals facets I had missed in previous hearings.
Luboš Sluka was previously unknown to me, but has composed more than 350 pieces, many vocal or pieces for small ensemble, often a single instrument with piano. He studied in Prague and was due to be a student of Honegger in Paris, in 1951, but was prevented from going there for political reasons. His Gabbione per due usignuoli was composed originally for cello and piano, though the original scoring permitted the cello to be replaced by bassoon or bass clarinet, so the transition to oboe and harp does not change the original too much. It is an attractive work, melodic and with some gentle touches. The oboe is the main voice, with the harp very much in accompaniment. It is enjoyable, though not perhaps especially distinctive. Primavera is more substantial and its two movements – a brief Lento, and more developed Allegro – were commissioned by Kateřina Englichová and Vilém Veverka. The harp’s role is a little more developed here, the music is charming, and could have been written at almost any time in the last century or so. It blends well, both idiomatically and stylistically with the Ravel and Debussy pieces.
The playing is exceptional – there is strong evidence is of interpretative sympathy between the two instrumentalists. The recording quality is very clear and uncluttered. The booklet, taken up largely by an interview with Englichová and Veverka (as well as photographs in artistic poses), gives an insight into creative choices, though more might have been written about the music itself, especially the pieces by Sluka.
This is not, I think, an essential purchase, but a rather lovely one for late night listening.