Notes and Editorial Reviews
Zden?k Fibich (1850–1900) put his strongest personal stamp on music for the Czech musical stage. Šárka (Supraphon GEMS 0036, an analog recording that has stood up well over the years) was a wholly successful “numbers” opera, and Fibich’s most successful theatrical piece during his lifetime. But arguably his tragedy Nev?sta (“The Bride of Messina,” Supraphon CO 1492) is a more original and inspired work, deserving fame for its brilliant integration of a sophisticated leitmotif structure with recitative-like textures and an individualistic melodic gift. In turn, Fibich’s trilogy of melodramas, Hippodamie (Supraphon CO 3037; analog, as above), takes this obsession with rendering the spoken word its due one step further: the text is
declaimed over the music.
Fibich’s symphonies are far better known. Unfortunately, they’re also inferior to his mature vocal works. The composer faced the same difficulty as the youthful Dvo?ák, attempting to pour a rapturously lyrical talent into strict symphonic forms. However, his chamber music doesn’t suffer from this problem, and it’s a pity the two compositions presented here aren’t better known. The earlier of the two works, the Piano quartet from 1874, is the more Brahmsian, while the 1894 quintet owes allegiance to Schumann—never more so than in the triumphal march theme that struts, banners waving, through the finale. Small touches of Schumann’s quixotic humor dot the musical landscape, too, as in the first trio from the quintet’s Scherzo, a mellow theme for French horn around which the violin revolves delicately upon its return. The effect is not unlike a slightly subdued Harlequin trying to dance unobserved to a hymn. The finest movements are the most intimate: the slow Theme and Variations in the Piano quartet, for instance, offers Fibich an excellent opportunity to display his peculiar mixture of fantasy and ardor. But best of all is the same quintet’s largo, a slow movement with a heart as spacious and captivating as anything Dvo?ák ever wrote.
The performances of the Panocha Quartet (minus its second violinist, Pavel Zejfart) are warm and distinguished. Lapšanský, who first studied piano in Prague with Maxián and Panenka, could be more assertive in the outer movements of both works, but blends well with his colleagues. Klánská’s burnished tone and Peterková’s fluency add much to the quintet, and to the aforementioned Scherzo in particular. Tempos are varied and well chosen throughout, avoiding any sense of unwarranted haste. Supraphon does an excellent job balancing these disparate forces, which must have been a nightmare in the later work. With good liner notes, this is definitely an attractive release.
Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
"...a work as individual as Fibich’s Quintet...its ceaseless outpouring of melody (Fibich taking a leaf from Dvo?ák’s book) helps make its wonderfully memorable—it’s not that the tunes themselves are particularly distinctive, but Fibich, whose private emotions found an outlet in his music, was deeply in love with Anežka Schulzová, a former student of his, and his swelling heart spills over into the Quintet, sweeping the listener along in its joyful outpouring. The instrumentation, of course, gives Fibich a far wider tonal palette than one might expect of a quintet and he makes full use of the coloristic opportunities open to him. A work to give in to and enjoy without reserve.
The ardent Piano Quartet—plainly a younger man’s thoughts (it was composed exactly 20 years before the Quintet)—that shares this excellent Supraphon CD is likewise a cornucopia of melody and passionate, this time stormier, emotion. After an agitated sonata movement comes an enchanting theme-and-variations, which demonstrates that, at age 24, Fibich’s compositional armory was already full stocked—an insight he reinforces when he uses the Allegro energico finale to draw together the thematic threads of the entire work.
First-rate playing from Supraphon’s Czech musicians, who bring these heartwarming works to glowing life—and they’re recorded in luminous sound. Recommended with enthusiasm—and gratitude: I’ve derived considerable pleasure from renewing my acquaintance with this music. Both works ought to be mainstays of the concert repertoire, but you’ll probably have a wait to hear them live. In the meantime, this glorious disc is a wonderful substitute."
Martin Anderson, FANFARE
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