in chronological order (the latest review at the top)
Forever Kapralova: Vitezslava Kapralova Songs (Supraphon).
A generous offering of 28 songs by composer and conductor Vitezslava Kapralova make their audio recording debut on the compact disc entitled "Forever Kapralova: Vítezslava Kapralova Songs," featuring Dana Buresova, soprano; Timothy Cheek, piano; Magda Caslavova, flute; and members of the Herold Quartet: Petr Zdvihal and Jan Valta, violins; David Havelik, cello. Also included is a detailed and expertly written commentary by Timothy Cheek, one of the world's foremost authorities on Kapralova's music and life. The songs are sung in the original Czech, with translations provided in English, German and French.
The songs featured on this recording represent all but five of Kapralova's total song output. They are set to the poetry of eleven Czech poets, nine of whom were her contemporaries, the other two having lived in the 17th and 19th centuries. The poet represented most frequently is Jaroslav Seifert (1901-86), winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1984, to whose poetry Kapralova composed six songs.
Kapralova was born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1915 and died in France in 1940; her compositions were celebrated to critical acclaim during her lifetime. Her death brought to a premature close the brief 16-year compositional life of one of the finest composers of the 20th century.
Kapralova was active during a period when it was difficult for a female composer to earn respect, and perhaps even more difficult for a composer to distinguish herself via songwriting. She engaged in song composition throughout her compositional life, even referring to it as her "biggest love." In addition to her contributions to the solo vocal repertoire, she also composed pieces for solo piano, piano with various instruments, chamber ensembles, chamber orchestra, symphony orchestra, piano and orchestra, chorus, and incidental music for stage, film and radio. We need to remember that Kapralova was a first-rate composer by the time she was 17 years old, blessed with a special gift as a superb musical craftsman.
Soprano Dana Buresova, a leading soloist at the National Theatre in Prague, has a voice that is clear and pure, reminiscent of Dawn Upshaw. Despite the demands of the Czech language with its many consonants, Buresova always manages to sing forward-placed and focused vowels, expertly and lovingly trundled by groups of consonants. Like Polish, Czech consonants are numerous but not harsh. Most difficult for non-native speakers attempting Slavic vocal literature is the ability to effortlessly form the correct groups of consonant sounds and acquire a softness and roundness in their execution. Buresova provides us with a crash course in Czech lyric vocal diction that every student of Slavic art song literature should listen to carefully. Listeners will also delight in Buresova's ability to sing in the dead center of the pitch on every single note of every song. Her vibrato is even, although she tends to suppress it unnecessarily from time to time.
It is difficult to imagine a better interpretation from the keyboard of Kapralova's songs than that of distinguished pianist Timothy Cheek. From the opening measures of the first track to the last notes of the final song, Cheek's performance is flawless. He is a collaborative partner par excellence, supporting the vocal line when required and expertly executing the demands of Kapralova's keyboard requirements with an array of color and artistic intelligence befitting this exceptional composer. I quite agree with Cheek in his commentary that Kapralova's finest songs stand in their own right "alongside those of Wolf, Debussy, and others who, like her, were able to achieve a true marriage of poetry and music."
Included in the collection of songs is the well-played though short (1:11) interlude for solo piano Posmrtna variace (Posthumous variation) based on the folk song Tatícku stary nas (Our old dad). It is dedicated to the memory of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), the first president of Czechoslovakia. The song is apparently so associated with Masaryk that it has attained the level of an anthem.
This CD represents a huge effort on the part of Buresova and Cheek. Their work and dedication to this project is a demonstration of the highest artistic standard in the genre of Czech art song repertoire and rates as one of the best CDs in the genre of 20th century art song repertoire recordings. The opening measures of any track on "Forever Kapralova" will win over a new generation of collaborative artists and listening audiences alike in search of beautiful, excellent and accessible recital repertoire. The CD was produced with the financial support of the Kapralova Society and the University of Michigan.
Review by Laura Grazyna Kafka for IAWM Journal, 2 (Fall 2004). Reprinted by permission.
Vitezslava KAPRALOVA: Portrait of the Composer.
After the wonderful Supraphon disc of music by Kapralova, it is a pleasure
to report further riches. This time the issuing company is Matous, another
Czech label (www.matous.cz). The presence of some orchestral and
concertante music is welcome on a disc that also includes one of her major
compositional statements, the excellent String Quartet of 1935.
First, the single movement Military Sinfonietta, so-called because of the
nature of its themes. If Janacek is present in the background of the very
opening, he is soon dispelled. This is eminently jolly music, written by a
firm compositional hand that guides a fertile imagination. Particularly
notable is the transparency of the orchestration (superbly realised here by
the Czech Symphony Orchestra).
The String Quartet is, if anything, an even finer piece; in my estimation
the best work on the disc. It was inspired by feelings of elation on
graduating from her Conservatoire. The very first entry sounds as if it is
slightly shortened by an error of editing, but that aside this is a fine
recording. The atmosphere here is more intense than in the Military
Sinfonietta, achieving almost a Bergian sense of flow (just missing that
final feeling of harmonic/motivic freedom so characteristic of Berg). The
Lento second movement begins with a cello soliloquy before an ultra-high
violin enters. The sorrowful lines are well presented, contrasting with the
tripping-along nature of the Vivo finale. Contrast is marked here, as in
the interior passage around 3'30 and the spiky, more obviously modern
passage slightly later on.
The Dubnova preludia ('April Preludes') for solo piano are, as the booklet
note promises, supremely pianistic. It is the second that seems most filled
with hope of Spring, while for the third, the indicator 'semplice' is the
watchword. The finale is the most spiky, almost in the manner of a Czech
Stravinsky. Jaroslav Smykal plays with laudable textural clarity. Only the
recording is really open to adverse criticism here, on the dry side and
lacking lower-range depth.
Kapralova studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Charles Munch, and also
became a pupil of Martinu's. Indeed Martinu was a major influence in her
life, so it is appropriate that here we have two settings of Frantisek Susil
's poem, Koleda milostna ('Love Carol'). A pity that text only is given by
Matous, but there is no missing the effectiveness of Martinu's assured and
simple response. Lenka Skornickova sings beautifully. Her voice is pure
(very little vibrato) and fresh-sounding. Kapralova's response to Susil's
text is spikier and certainly more cheeky.
Ritornell for cello and piano was Kapralova's last completed composition. A
dry acoustic again does not help matters, but there is no doubting the work'
s appeal and no doubting either the technical competence of cellist Ivan
Neo-classic is the term that springs straight to mind when confronted with
the Partita, Op. 20, for 'string orchestra and piano'. The piano is recorded
closely, but mercifully Jiri Skovajsa does not bang. In fact, he has a most
appealing staccato. There is a feeling of Bartok about much of the first
movement. The hypnotic Andantino is marvellously expressive, contrasting
with the acidic harmonies of the witty concluding Presto.
Waving Farewell closes the disc - a more fitting title would be hard to
find. This is a 1937 setting for voice and orchestra of a poem by Vitezslav
Nezval. The tenor soloist, Vilem Pribyl, is unconvincing though. He seems
unsure of where the line is going and his voice is forced. The work itself
is effective, but some slight reshuffling of tracks would have ensured a
more lasting impression for this disc. Nevertheless, this is an essential
supplement to the Supraphon disc mentioned above. Do try to search it out.
These are mostly Czech Radio recordings, from Brno. There is a countryman's
dedication that shines through all the performances.
Review by Colin Clarke for MusicWeb.uk, November 2004. Reprinted by permission.
Baletni vecer uctil mistry. Baletnim vecerem na hudbu ceskych skladatelu se k letosnimu Roku ceske hudby pripojil i balet Narodniho divadla v Brne premierou v patek 19. listopadu 2004 v Janackove divadle.
Dramaturgie nesla cestou overenou; do tri dejstvi volila vybrane skladby Bohuslava Martinu, Vitezslavy Kapralove, Antonina Dvoraka a Leose Janacka pro tanec neurcene a zatim take neztvarnene.
Zejmena uvedeni Partity brnenske rodacky Kapralove bylo cinem pozoruhodnym a zasluznym. Jeho choreografie se po delsi dobe ujal sef baletu a reditel divadla Zdenek Prokes. [..] Zdenek Prokes pojal Kapralove Partitu humorne. Vnesl do jinak dosti vazneho vecera jiskru a odlehceni.
Protivaha realneho sveta unaveneho manzelstvi ke snum muze o petici "onacejsich" zen se projevila jako mozna a scenicky zajimava. Dala navic uplatneni patnacti tanecnicim, ktere spolu s Martinem Zakem a Evou Seneklovou Partitu vytvareji.
From a review by Libuse Zborilova for Rovnost (23.11.2004).
Forever Kapralova. Vitezslava Kapralova: Songs
Dass Vitezslava Kapralova (1915-1940) eines der bemerkenswertesten Talente in Komposition und Dirigieren war, die
sich Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts am musikalischen Himmel zeigten, bedarf keiner ausfuhrlichen
Erlauterung mehr. Dennoch ist man jedes Mal erstaunt, wenn Neuerscheinungen mit ihren Werken herauskommen.
Grandios, eigenwillig, unverwechselbar - zahlreiche Epitheta fließen dann wie von selbst in die Zeilen. So auch
hier. [...] Man kann es nicht oft genug betonen: Kapralova war so etwas wie
"Reifezeit" in ihrem kurzen Leben nicht vergönnt. Beim Hören ihrer Stucke
vergisst man das allzu schnell. Farbig, weit differenziert im Ausdruck, unglaublich
sicher in der Beherrschung moderner tonaler Mittel und trotzdem erscheint hinter dem selbstverdstandlich
genutzten Handwerk immer eine vitale musikalische Ursprunglichkeit. [..] Die meisten der verwendeten Dichtungen sind poetische Kunstwerke eigenen Rangs.
Insgesamt dominieren die gedeckten Stimmungen; Nachdenklichkeit, Melancholie oder sogar Traurigkeit herrschen vor.
Naturlich hat das Auswirkungen auf den musikalischen Tonfall, der alles andere als uberschwanglich ist.
Der Pianist der Aufnahme ruckt in seinem instruktiven und ausfuhrlichen Booklet-Text den Stil einiger Lieder in die
Nahe des Impressionismus, was allerdings nur eine sehr unscharfe Vorstellung vermittelt.
Vielmehr liegt bei Kapralova der Glucksfall einer Komponistin mit einer wirklich eigenen Stimme vor, was es wiederum sehr erleichtert, ihre Lieder mit den Werken des
bereits eingenfuhrten Repertoires zu kombinieren. [..]
From a review by Ricarda Dietz, for VivaVoce 68 (2004): 32.
Tschechische Musik 2004: Vergessenes und Wiedergehörtes.
Die Tschechen sagen: Ohne Smetana kann der Fruhling in Prag nicht beginnen. [..] Neben ihm feiert das neue EU-Mitglied mehr als 60 Jubilaen herausragender Komponisten, Interpreten und Institutionen, was die Regierung dazu veranlasste ein „Jahr der tschechischen Musik" auszurufen. Im Mittelpunkt der Feierlichkeiten steht das „Dreigestirn" tschechischer Musik: Smetana, Dvorak (100. Todestag) und Janacek (150. Geburtstag), erganzt durch Bohuslav Martinu (45. Todestag). […] Eine jungst entdeckte Komponistin steht im Schatten all dieser Feierlichkeiten: Vítezslava Kapralova. Die Muse und Schulerin Bohuslav Martinus, die 1940 mit nur 25 Jahren an Tuberkulose verstarb, wurde bis vor kurzem als Fußnote der tschechischen Musik gehandelt. Jetzt beweist eine Neuerscheinung mit einer nahezu kompletten Gesamteinspielung ihrer Lieder ihre große Bedeutung als fantasievolle Grenzgangerin zwischen subtilem Impressionismus und Fruhexpressionismus. Hinter ihrem klangorientierten lyrischen Stil, der in revolutionare harmonische Welten vordringt und Text und Melodie zu einer Einheit verschmilzt darf man zu Recht ein zu fruh verstorbenes Genie vermuten. Kapralova, die Meisterin der leisen melancholischen Töne, verdient ebenso wie viele andere Komponisten in diesem Jahr der Impulse fur die tschechische Musik größere Beachtung.
From an unpublished review by Eckehard Pistrick. Reprinted by permission.
Madtown Sounds: Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society
The one-of-a-kind chamber music series put on this summer by the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society featured three concerts of music by Czech composers.
The performances were superb: top-notch musicians playing with palpable excitement and enthusiasm. [...]
I also appreciated the introduction to some of the works of Vitezslava Kapralova, the brilliant young composer who died from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five shortly after fleeing Paris in advance of the Nazi invasion. The year before she died, she wrote a work for violin and piano titled "In Memoriam", subsequently retitled "Elegie", in remembrance of Karel Capek, who had died the previous year. The "Elegie" is a short piece, but more than elegiac; the emotions the performance evoked for me were a wrenching combination of sadness and anger at the loss of Capek. I could not imagine a more appropriate tribute to Capek...or to Kapralova, for that matter.
From a review for Bookish Gardener, August 15, 2004.
Czech out fun Bach society's delights
Martinu, Svoboda, Kapralova, Dvorak
Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, Madison's summer chamber music frolic, started its three-week run with more than its usual bang Friday, creating a program that defies even this group's sense of "Czechs" and balances. [...] "Local Czechs Only," the title of Friday's selection of compositions from primarily 20th century Czech composers who emigrated to the United States or died trying, offers four selections over two hours.
It's truly hard to pick a favorite from among the evening's offerings. [...] Vitezslava Kapralova's "Elegie for violin and piano" was as painfully short as it was emotional. Violinist Frank Almond's execution of the elegy, written one year prior to the composer's own death from tuberculosis at age 25, sears the nerves with raw emotion. The unusual inclusion brought an interesting addition to the program.[...]
From a review by Michael Muckian for The Capital Times, July 24, 2004.
Von, aber nicht nur fur Frauen.
Die tschechische Komponistin Vitezslava Kapralova hinterliess 1940 mit nur
25 Jahren ein reichhaltiges Oeuvre. Ihr einziges Streichquartett entstand
1935 in Prag. Die Komponistin verarbeitet darin mahrische Melodien; sie
zerlegt diese in kleinste Zellen, um jene zu drei ausserst dichten und
vielschichtigen Satzen zu verweben. Das Werk stellt mit seinem standig
wechselnden Klangcharakter hohe Anspruche an die Ausfuhrenden.
From a review signed by initials (bes) for e-Bund, July 2004.