Notes and Editorial Reviews
Czech-born, Vienna-based Jan Václav Hugo Vo?íšek (1791–1825), had he lived a full lifespan, might have become his homeland’s first significant composer of the Romantic age, beating Smetana to the starting gate. Or he may have just muddled through life as an interesting, engaging secondary figure, another Hummel or Dussek. Of course, we’ll never know, but the fat handful of works he completed before succumbing to tuberculosis suggests his career may have taken either course. The work most easily accessible on recordings over the past few decades has been his delightful symphony, which sounds like early Beethoven laced at times with a Dvo?ákian lyricism. His piano music, rather plentiful by the standards of his limited
catalog, has received a fair amount of attention in the CD era, but his few chamber works have been more difficult to come by. Now Praga has issued four of them—perhaps the only four, although I’m not sure of that—on one lovely hybrid multichannel SACD. I can find a reference to one competing version of the Violin Sonata, op. 5, although I haven’t heard it for comparison, and the Variations for Cello and Piano, op. 9, are also available elsewhere, but again I’ve never dug that disc up. Praga claims a world premiere for its recording of the Rondo for String Quartet, op. 11, and the Rondo for Violin and Piano, op. 8, doesn’t seem to be otherwise available right now.
The 28-minute Violin Sonata is the item of greatest interest here. Its opening moments are strongly influenced by Beethoven’s string sonatas, but once the violin starts singing out the first movement’s lyrical second subject, this could pass for lost Schubert (Vo?íšek had known both composers since 1814–15, and had played Beethoven’s piano sonatas in Vienna salons). The scherzo is like Mendelssohn with more muscle. In short, the sonata is very much a thing of its time and place, not to mention a thing of delight, and Vo?íšek handles his materials with skill. The Rondo for Violin and Piano dates from one year later, 1821; it’s engaging and entertaining but never trivial. Here the influence seems to be Schubert morphing into Weber.
The Variations for Cello and Piano, from 1822, might almost be mistaken for Beethoven, except that the piano part tends to glitter in the manner of Hummel or Tomášek. The 1823 Rondo for String Quartet takes off from one of those galloping themes that were Weber’s stock in trade, and alone in this program might be too derivative for its own good.
If this music is not entirely original, it does at least have great appeal, hardly ever falling into the generic gestures of the period’s lesser composers. It makes you wonder what Vo?íšek’s music might have been like a decade or two later, after contact with the likes of Schumann.
The performances by pianist Ivan Klánský and members of the Kocian Quartet are perfectly suited to the music’s sunny nature. Klánský is an assertive pianist who can scale back when appropriate without mincing. Violinist Pavel H?la has a lovely, sweet tone; his playing in the sonata’s short slow movement is plaintive, but not cloying. Cellist Václav Bernášek handles his variations vibrantly, and the entire quartet does a fine enough job in its rondo that you can’t help thinking how they’d sound in the Weber Clarinet Quintet.
Praga’s conventional two-channel CD audio is always natural, and its multichannel SACD sound is even more realistic, placing the listener in the first or second row of a modest hall. In every way, this is a beguiling disc.
James Reel, FANFARE
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