Energetic Performances Kick Off Jan Novák Orchestral Series

This release presents three works for soloist(s) and orchestra by Jan Novák. Two of them are world premiere recordings, all extraordinary compositions.

Jan Novák was a Czech composer active in the postwar era. He was a generation younger than Bohuslav Martinu, who he greatly admired. It’s been remarked that Novák’s music bears a strong resemblance to Martinu’s. I agree with that assessment, but not for the assumed reasons.

I think Martinu showed Novák how to write classical music inspired by his native culture. The unusual rhythms in both men’s music echo Czech speech patterns. The angular nature of their melodies follows Czech folk models, as well as their harmonies.

The 1949 Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra is a prime example. When Novák showed Martinu the completed score, he called it “fitful and scholastic.” Novák started from scratch and produced the work on this album.

There’s nothing academic about this concerto — nor fitful. The work moves smoothly from climax to climax. Its harmonies and rhythms have a fresh sound, and the entire work has a joyous quality to it.

The Czech elements are even more fully integrated in Novák’s 1952 Concerto for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra. The work is shorter and more tightly organized. The energy level is higher. And the rhythms and cross-rhythms are better integrated into the music.

The Concentus Biiugis for piano four hands and string orchestra is a late work, written in 1977. Four hands at the piano tend to have a thicker sound than two. Perhaps that is the reason Novák thickened the texture of the orchestral sound.

The entire work has a dense quality to it, while still remaining nimble and full of energy.

The Ensemble Opera Diversa, led by Gabriela Tardonová is a Czech ensemble. All of the soloists are native to the Czech Republic. And I think that’s part of what makes this recording so successful.

Martinu encouraged Novák to return to his roots. These musicians are intimately familiar with those roots. They recognize their importance in Novák’s music. These are exciting performances, indeed!

I look forward to Volume Two.

Jan Novák: Music for Orchestra, Volume One
Concerto for Piano and Strings; Oboe Concerto; Concentus biiugis
Vilém Veverka, oboe; Alice Rajnohová, piano
Lucie Schinzelová and Kristýna Znamenáčková, piano duet
Ensemble Opera Diversa; Gabriela Tardonová, conductor
Toccata Classics TOCC 0551

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