Janáček philharmonic OstravaKlassik Heute reviewed the double CD of Vítězslava Kaprálová’s orchestral works

Klassik Heute reviewed the double CD of Vítězslava Kaprálová’s orchestral works

The Czech composer Vítězslava Kaprálová (1915‒1940), who passed away at just 25 years old, was evidently a highly gifted composer even in her youth. She initially studied with her father, Václav Kaprál — himself a student of Janáček — before continuing her education under Vítězslav Novák in Prague and later Bohuslav Martinů in Paris. In 1937, she received the Smetana Society Award for her Military Sinfonietta, and also became the first female conductor of the Czech Philharmonic; her mentors in conducting included the esteemed Zdeněk Chalabala and later Charles Münch. Kaprálová moved to Paris in October 1937 and remained there due to the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. In 1940, she married Jiří Mucha, the son of the famous Art Nouveau painter Alfons Mucha. Before the German invasion, she was evacuated to Montpellier, where she died on June 16—likely from typhus. The double CD from cpo contains, for the first time in a single release, all of the completed orchestral works of the composer.


Opus 1 in Piano and Orchestral Versions

Kaprálová’s official Opus 1, the Suite en miniature from 1935, originates from a piano version that is four years older, which is included here as a bonus. This not only highlights the rapid development of the composer but is also significant because this piano version has been omitted in previous complete recordings of her piano works. To directly compare the two versions, you will need to change CDs. Here, the Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava demonstrates that it captures the distinctively Czech idiom of Kaprálová’s music better than, for example, the Naxos recording from Michigan. The young conductor Alena Hron dares to do something that practically all previous recordings lack — courageous emotional exaggeration. This seems appropriate, even necessary, in this case and is not merely an expression of youthful exuberance but a defining characteristic of Kaprálová’s art, which the communists during the Cold War deemed decadent.


Benchmark Performance of the Piano Concerto

There are now several good recordings of the Piano Concerto in D minor, Op. 7. In addition to the CD from Michigan featuring soloist Amy I-Lin Cheng, Supraphon recently released a new recording (Marek Kozák) that has been rightly praised. However, this recording is significantly outshined by the present one, due to the aforementioned enthusiasm of the orchestra and conductor — the first movement is, after all, marked Allegro entusiastico — and especially the immensely passionate and fiery performance of pianist Tomáš Vrána. He not only masters the virtuosity that harks back to late Romantic traditions with aplomb but also shapes every detail with emotional coherence and exquisite sound, without going overboard. Just listen to the long solo — more than a simple cadenza — towards the end of the first movement, which nearly takes the listener’s breath away, or the jazz-inspired excitement in the finale. This piece alone justifies the acquisition of this production.


Modern Approaches and a Captivating Orchestral Song

The other major works are also performed with near-unmatched musical quality. In the aforementioned Military Sinfonietta, which the composer even conducted at the BBC in 1938, its nationalist tone is apparently deliberately understated here in favor of structural clarity. The famous Furiant from Smetana’s The Bartered Bride quoted in the Lento (!) of the Suite rustica is genuinely amusing. The Partita for Piano & Strings — heavily influenced by Martinů — is already moving towards Stravinsky. Special mention must be made of the orchestral song Sbohem a šáteček, which can easily stand alongside the best contributions to the genre by Richard Strauss: Veronika Rovná sings it excellently, though somewhat too tamely. Technically, the recording is of a high standard, although the generous reverb in places may be a matter of taste, earning the double album a strong recommendation.


Comparative Recordings:

  • [Prélude de Noël, Piano Concerto, Sbohem a šáteček, Suite en miniature, Military Sinfonietta] Amy I-Lin Cheng, Nicholas Phan, Orchestra of the University of Michigan, Kenneth Kiesler (Naxos 8.574144, 2015/16);
  • [Piano Concerto] Marek Kozák, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Robert Jindra (Supraphon SU 4337-2, 2020).


Klassik-heute.com, Martin Blaumeiser, 10. 6. 2024