Czech Choral Masterworks: Martinu, Reznicek, Fiala

This has to be one of the most unusual albums of choral music I’ve listened to. The concept is solid — sacred music by 20th Century Czech composers. What’s unusual is the relationship between the composers.

The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno performs two works by Bohuslav Martinu. Rounding out the album are works by the founder of the choir, and by its choirmaster and music director. But don’t consider this filler. The compositions of Petr Reznicek and Petr Fiala compare favorably to Martinu’s.

The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno has this music in their blood. I can’t describe the ensemble sound any other way than it’s 100% right for this music. The basses and tenors have a full-bodied sound that’s fully articulated in the lower register. The sopranos and altos have an earthy coloration that’s unique to Eastern Europe.

Martinu is represented by two works from 1954 –  The Hymn to St. James H.347 and the Mount of Three Lights H.349. Both feature a narrator, choir and organ. Martinu incorporates some folk elements into the Hymn. The Mount of Three Lights is more classically-oriented. Both are classic Martinu. The harmonic motion, the shifting syncopations and folk-inspired melodies are all there.

Fiala’s Regina Coeli laetare sound quite different. The harmonies are more complex, while the rhythm is more regular. Here the choir is interspersed with a solo cello.

Reznicek’s Dies Irae reminded me quite a bit of Messaien’s choral music. Perhaps because it was the only work on the album resembled someone else’s I found it the least interesting of the three. Reznicek is the ensemble’s choirmaster and knows all its strengths. The Dies Irae receives a superb performance from the choir it was clearly written for.

This release is a case where the music is perfectly matched to the ensemble. And that’s what made it so enjoyable for me.

Martinu/Reznicek/Fiala
Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno
ArcoDiva UP0188

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