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Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek: Symphony in D major, Op. 24
Antonín Rejcha: Overture in D major in 5/8, Symphony in E flat major, Op. 41
Marek Štryncl & Musica Florea


F10185   [8595017418525]   released 9/2010   reviews

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, conductor
world premiere recording on period instruments

It would be somewhat inconceivable to write a sleeve note for a recording of symphonies written in the first third of the 19th century without mentioning the name Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven’s nine symphonies dating from this period represent one of the cornerstones of European music which provided an example, standard and permanent source of inspiration for the following epoch and which, at the same time, were the result of more than one hundred years of evolution in orchestral music. The symphony’s journey to the top of the hierarchy of instrumental genres and to the masterpieces of the Viennese “triple star” – Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven – was undertaken simultaneously in several music centres. In many places, musicians and composers from the Czech Lands were an important part of this cultural process. A number of their works “made history”, some of them are traditional fixtures in the concert repertoire, and others are still awaiting their day. If, however, we were to look among them for compositions which we could rank alongside any of Beethoven’s symphonies, the leading candidates in this selection would undoubtedly include those featured on this recording.
      The first of these is Symphony in D major, Op. 23, the only symphony written by composer Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek. Voříšek was born in 1791 as the son of a schoolmaster and organist in Vamberk. Thanks to his musical talent, he was given financial support from the nobility in order to be able to study at the Jesuit grammar school in Prague. Upon leaving school he continued his studies at university here and became the pupil of Prague’s “musical pope”, Václav Jan Tomášek, who valued his talent extremely highly; Voříšek shared his teacher’s fondness for writing lyrical piano pieces. In the autumn of 1813 Voříšek left for Vienna, where he acquired the position of court organist and also earned considerable recognition as a fine pianist.
      Voříšek completed his only symphony in 1823 and, a month later, it was performed at a concert organised by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde together with Beethoven’s oratorio Christus am Ölberge [Christ on the Mount of Olives]. The maturity of this work seems almost incredible, given that this was his first composition in this genre. Voříšek didn’t linger with a slow introduction, which was still fairly common at that time; the first movement goes straight in with the main theme and is typical for its compact form and stirring momentum. The same could be said for the following movements, in which – thanks to their excellent instrumentation, among other things – light and shade are alternated to great effect, lending them an extraordinary depth. The three-part second movement perhaps conveys the strongest allusion to Beethoven’s symphonies. The Scherzo, too, in its relative sedateness, reveals similar motivation although, here, Voříšek allowed himself a little experiment in his choice of the unusual 9/8 time signature – possibly for this reason, the Scherzo came in for a dose of criticism at the time, unlike the first two movements, which were extremely well received.
      Even so, Voříšek’s music, rather than Beethovenesque heroism and pomp, betrays concise and effective use of his chosen devices and, in places, we will hear flashes of earlier inspiration going back to the Baroque, as was the case in the late works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The transition from the development to the recapitulation in the first movement is an example of this, with its lingering tempo in the wind harmony above the string accompaniment, or the brief introduction to the second movement. Voříšek was born in the same year that Mozart died and he shared with him not only a pervasive musical talent distinctive for its remarkable invention, but also the fate of a composer whose life was cut short; he died in 1825 at a mere thirty-four years of age.
      Antonín Rejcha was Beethoven’s contemporary; he was born into a musical family in Prague in 1770, not quite ten months before his more famous colleague. Their lives intersected relatively early on, in Beethoven’s birthplace, Bonn, where Antonín Rejcha arrived in 1785 at the age of fifteen to take up the position of flautist in the elector’s Hofkapelle, directed by his uncle Josef. Young Beethoven played the viola in the same orchestra, both studied composition with court organist Christian Gottlob Neefe, and also at the city’s university. After a short period in Hamburg, where Rejcha finally abandoned his profession as an orchestral player in order to concentrate on his teaching and composition, his subsequent career unfolded in Paris; he worked here briefly from 1799 to 1801, returning in 1808 to settle in the city for good. In the meantime he tried to establish himself in Vienna, where he befriended the aging Haydn, and it was also here that he met Beethoven again.
     Rejcha was a sought-after and respected teacher, an intellectual who took a keen interest in musical-theoretical questions and was always ready to apply and clarify them in writing, whether in illustrative compositions or theoretical texts. Naturally, his example was Joseph Haydn who, in his countless symphonies and other works written in the “Esterházy laboratory”, systematically examined all kinds of problems and possible compositional solutions. Apart from the fugue, Rejcha initially focused chiefly on issues of rhythm. Thus in his practical examples he analyses compound metre, for instance; then, in his very next example, he turns his attention to his favourite 5/8 time: “This time signature affords so many rhythmical combinations!” Needless to say, his findings influenced his own works as well – he exploited the versatility and variability of 5/8 time in his brilliant Overture in D major for large orchestra, which he had already completed before the year 1799 and later revised, adding a slow introduction in 1823.
      Symphony in E flat major, Op. 41 was penned in 1799 during the composer’s first sojourn in Paris and was performed here the following year to great success. When Rejcha moved to Vienna in 1802 his symphony came out in print in Leipzig. There is no record that the work was ever performed in Vienna, which would, in fact, be entirely consistent with the composer’s grievances over unreceptive Viennese audiences. It is written for a smaller ensemble without trumpets or clarinets, and only with one flute. The music is fresh and light with clear Haydn influences, particularly evident in the second movement, and in the playful melody treated in the trio of the third movement. Both outer movements, however, retain a fitting sense of authority and solemnity. This symphony by Rejcha may thus also be placed firmly alongside the first symphony by his friend and colleague Ludwig van Beethoven, likewise written and performed at the turn of the century, in the years 1799–1800.

Václav Kapsa


Versions enthousiasmantes de deux symphonies tchèques

Ces deux symphonies tchèques sous ce même couplage (mais sans l’ouverture) nous furent révélées en 1962 par l’Orchestre de Chambre de Prague, sans chef d’orchestre, en un microsillon Supraphon (SUAST59139). Elles nous firent prendre conscience qu’il existait évidemment d’excellents compositeurs tchèques avant Smetana et le développement du nationalisme en musique.
     Né dans une famille plutôt pauvre, Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek, grâce à son réel talent musical, reçut le soutien financier de la noblesse qui lui permit d’étudier d’abord avec un maître de Prague, Václav Jan Tomášek, puis à Vienne où il devint très vite organiste de la Cour. Il compléta sa seule Symphonie en ré majeur en 1823, d’emblée un chef-d’œuvre concis d’une étonnante maturité, à mi-chemin entre Beethoven et Schubert. Sa disparition prématurée, deux années plus tard à 34 ans, coupa net l’épanouissement d’une personnalité musicale fondamentalement riche et dotée de dons exceptionnels.
     Né à Prague la même année que son futur ami Beethoven, Antonín Rejcha eut pour sa part un destin plus clément que celui de son compatriote Voříšek, même s’il fut très tôt orphelin ; recueilli et élevé à Bonn dans la famille de son oncle Josef Rejcha compositeur, violoncelliste et chef d’orchestre, il étudia diverses disciplines telles que la musique, les mathématiques et la philosophie. Après avoir enseigné la musique à Hambourg puis à Vienne, il se fixa dès 1808 définitivement à Paris où sa réputation comme théoricien et professeur de musique lui attira nombre d’élèves dont Adam, Berlioz, Franck, Gounod, Liszt. Auteur de nombreux ouvrages sur la théorie musicale, il fut nommé professeur de composition au Conservatoire de Paris dès 1818, et après naturalisation française en 1829, membre de l’Institut en 1835 en remplacement de Boieldieu.
     La musique d’Antonín Rejcha est spirituelle et d’une simplicité limpide qui l’oriente vers la légèreté gracieuse de la musique française, contrairement à celle de Voříšek qui nous semble plus proche de l’émotion dramatique beethovenienne. Il faut dire que Voříšek appartient pratiquement à la génération suivante, ce qui n’empêche en rien Rejcha de manifester des recherches harmoniques et rythmiques avancées dans ses compositions, pour preuve cette étonnante Ouverture en 5/8 (1799, révisée en 1823) qui parvient à maintenir son rythme et l’intérêt tout du long de ses 13 minutes.
     La nation tchèque a toujours compté parmi les plus musiciennes du monde, et elle le demeure : cet enregistrement en est un des plus éclatants témoignages, puisque quand leurs musiciens cèdent à la mode des baroqueux, ils le font avec une virtuosité et surtout une musicalité à faire pâlir les autres ensembles de ce type. Et c’est bien le cas de Musica Florea sous la baguette enthousiaste et inspirée de Marek Štryncl : rarement nous avons entendu une formation d’instruments anciens jouer avec une précision, une chaleur et une justesse (au point que pour une fois l’absence de vibrato des cordes n’est guère gênante) telles que tout autre groupe baroqueux – pour tout qui possède un minimum d’oreille – semble en comparaison relégué au rang de piètres amateurs, au sens péjoratif du terme !
     Pour ces œuvres, il est vraiment difficile d’imaginer autre chose que ces superbes interprétations, tant elles paraissent idéales, naturelles et évidentes dans leur démarche. Une réussite totale !

Michel Tibbaut /

Further recording by Marek Štryncl and the Musica Florea orchestra:

© 2HP Production, October 2017
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