in chronological order (the latest review at the top)
Vitezslava Kapralova: Songs. Supraphon - DDD
Figlia del compositore cecoslovacco Vaclav Kapral, Vitezslava (Vita) Kapralova nacque a Brno nel 1915.
Dotata di un enorme talento, dovette fare i conti fin da piccola con seri problemi di salute, avendo contratto la tubercolosi.
Cio non le impedi di intraprendere i suoi studi musicali, prima al Conservatorio di Brno, poi a Praga, con Novak e Talich, ed infine a Parigi, dove si reco grazie ad una borsa di studio e si perfeziono con il connazionale Martinu, Munch e la Boulanger.
Nalla capitale francese ebbe la possibilità di farsi conoscere sia come compositrice che come direttrice d'orchestra e risiedeva ancora li quando i nazisti invasero nel 1939 la Cecoslovacchia, per cui rinuncio a tornare in patria e chiese asilo politico al governo francese.
L'anno successivo sposo Jiri Mucha, figlio del noto pittore ceco Alfonse, ma la loro unione fu brevissima.
Pochi giorno dopo, infatti, la Kapralova, minata dalla tubercolosi, si spense a Montpellier, dove era fuggita a seguito dell'occupazione di Parigi da parte delle truppe tedesche.
Nonostante una produzione limitata, dovuta alla sua breve esistenza, si ritiene, a ragione, che la Kapralova abbia avuto una fortissima influenza sulla musica ceca del Novecento.
Appare percio di grande interesse il recente cd della Supraphon, intitolato "Songs", dedicato a buona parte dei brani vocali composti dall'autrice nel periodo 1932-1940.
Si tratta di composizioni, come "Two songs, op. 44" di Bojko, che si avvalgono spesso delle liriche dei più importanti poeti cechi del periodo, alcuni dei quali erano amici della musicista.
Non mancano riferimenti alla tradizione popolare ("Christmas Carol") o strettamente autobiografici, quali "Letter", scritto dalla Kapralova pochi giorni dopo il suo matrimonio, ultimo brano del disco.
In complesso, si puo affermare che queste "Songs" hanno come denominatore comune la sofferenza, sia quella patita dall'autrice a causa della malattia, che quella legata alla lontananza da Praga.
Il tutto è ben sottolineato dall'eccezionale interpretazione del soprano Dana Buresova, che affronta i brani della Kapralova con grande trasporto ed immedesimazione, abbinati ad una splendida voce.
Un apporto decisivo è fornito anche dal pianista Timothy Cheek, autore delle note introduttive del voluminoso libretto di accompagnamento, che mostra un perfetto affiatamento con la cantante.
Bravi anche gli altri interpreti, la flautista Magda Caslavova, i violinisti Petr Zdvihal e Jan Valta ed il violoncellista David Havelik.
Prima di chiudere, va ringraziata la Kapralova Society, organismo istituito nel 1997 con l'intento di diffondere la produzione della sfortunatissima compositrice ceca, che con il suo supporto finanziario ha permesso la realizzazione di questo splendido cd.
Review by Marco del Vaglio for Agire, November 6, 2005. Reprinted by permission.
Vitezslava Kapralova: Portrait of the Composer
Many classical composers who live uncommonly short life spans are accorded a place in the "might have been" category.
Usually the output of such a composer consists of many short pieces and no more than one or two large-scale works.
In her short 25 years, Czech composer Vitezslava Kapralova amassed an astonishingly original output that would be the envy of any composer three times her age just by virtue of its size and breadth.
Studio Matous’s Vitezslava Kapralova: Portrait of the Composer seems to be the first compact disc devoted entirely to the dissemination of Kapralova’s spectacular work.
Vitezslava Kapralova: Portrait of the Composer demonstrates the composer’s facility in a wide range of compositional forms. At least three of these works are unqualified masterpieces, ready to stand alongside any concert music produced in the 1930s - Kapralova’s Partita for piano and orchestra, String Quartet and the orchestral song Waving Farewell.
This last work is the one Kapralova piece so far to gain a measure of recognition, as it seems to symbolize her generation of Czech artists, most of whom perished under the wheels of the Nazi machine, although her early death spared Kapralova from this fate.
The "Andantino" of the Partita is meltingly beautiful, and the work as whole demonstrates her comfort with the neo-classical idiom that dominated the European music of her day.
Yet the String Quartet and April Preludes for piano are more acerbic, the Military Sinfonietta more satirical, and the Ritornel for cello and piano is more Romantic in tone.
Kapralova’s pieces are as different from one another stylistically as they are from the manner of everyone else in her immediate circle.
The main elements that bind Kapralova’s music together is her unique harmonic sense, wit, lyricism, fire, freshness and toughness, each piece reflecting different aspects of her personality and experience.
As one might deduce from such a wide variety of settings, the quality of the performances is equally variable. The chamber pieces get the best performances, whereas the orchestral works, performed by the Czech Symphony Orchestra of Brno under Frantisek Jilek, tend to be more loose and unfocused.
The quality of Kapralova’s music is what prevails in the end, and Vitezslava Kapralova: Portrait of the Composer both serves the purpose of introducing the work of this mostly unknown name and ultimately leaves the listener wanting more.
Review by David N. Lewis, July 2005, for All Music Guide. Reprinted by permission.
The songs in particular show a distinctive musical voice at work; Kapralova's music demonstrates an understanding of French impressionism but doesn't sound particularly French, and sometimes Kapralova incorporates some of the toughness and grit of expressionistic writing to put over a dramatic effect.
From a Kapralova bio by David N. Lewis for All Music Guide.
Vitezslava Kapralova: Songs (Pisne). The complete performance of the songs of Vitezslava Kapralova presents her song legacy as a surprisingly consistent whole. It is a world that is exceedingly fragile and at the same time moving in its
honesty and vulnerability. The poetic texts used are by various authors (Seifert, Nezval, Hora, Sramek, Carek, Kricka and others), but they have affinities - they speak of grief, longing, farewells, solitude, the irreversible flow of time. It is quite extraordinary
how despite her youth Kapralova managed to imprint each song with a perfect musical form and bring to them all a touch of limpid musical poetry. The are all characterised by a pure
and mature musical idiom that undergoes a certain development; yet retains a sympathetic individuality. Despite all modernity the melodic line sounds so natural that no other resolution seems possible.
The piano accompaniments complete and enhance the atmosphere of the songs with extraordinary sensitivity. Kapralova makes only minimal use of onomatopoeic, programmatic effects, and when she does it is always with ingenuity and musical wit (the bustle of Jarni pouti [Spring Fair], the
three different stylisations of bird song in Koleda [Carol], Rodny kraj [Native Landscape] or in Pisen milostna [Love Song]). Dana Buresova sings the songs with perfect understanding and feeling. She has a very pleasant and balanced voice that seems to be completely ideal for this kind of music.
The American pianist Timothy Cheek plays with an awareness that in Kapralova's music the piano music is not just an accompaniment but an equal element that needs to be thought out
to the smallest detail. And he manages it wonderfully. It should be noted that Cheek is a considerable expert on Kapralova's work and Czech culture in general (for example, he recently published the excellent book Singing in Czech on Czech vocal pronunciation for English singers).
Karla Hartl, the Czech translator of Cheek's accompanying text in the booklet, is the founder and president of the Kapralova Society in Toronto. Her contribution to the rediscovery
of Kapralova's music cannot be praised enough. If we add to all the excellent aspects of this CD its beautiful graphic design and lavish text, we can unhesitatingly rank it among the most important and innovative Czech projects in recent years.
Review by Veroslav Nemec for Czech Music, 2 (2005). Reprinted by permission.
"One of the most undeservedly neglected Czech 20th century composers."
Patricia Goodson for Encore, Czech Radio 7, February 2005.
Vytvorila pozoruhodne dilo, v nemz vynika zejmena lyricky melodicke bohatstvi a bystra spontanni hudebnost. Na jejich kompozicich je videt mistrovska prace, sila invence a suverenni ovladana kompozicna praxe.
From the Czech Radio Publishing House website.
Kapralova. January, 2 Songs, Sparks from Ashes, Apple from the Lap, Forever, Waving Farewell, Carol, Christmas Carol, Sung into the Distance, Letter, Seconds. Dana Buresova (sop), Timothy Cheek (pn), Magda Caslavova (fl), Petr Zdvihal (vn), Jan Valta (vn), David Havelik (vc), Supraphon.
Vitezslava Kapralova (1915-1940) attended Brno Conservatory, where she studied conducting with Chalabala and composition under Petrzelka. Upon graduation, she took master classes at the Prague Conservatory from Novak and Talich, and then received a French government scholarship that allowed her to move to Paris. There, her mentor in conducting was Munch, while she became the compositional pupil, and later the lover, of Martinu. In 1940, she married Jiri Mucha, son of the painter/illustrator, and was planning to leave Europe for the US. Evacuated from Paris to Montpellier when the German army invaded, a particularly virulent strain of tuberculosis claimed her life. She was only twenty-five.
The might-have-beens and would-have-beens of the art world are quickly forgotten, but during her final years, Kapralova was recognized as a strong, young talent. She represented Czechoslovakia at the 1938 ISCM Festival for new music, held in London, her compositions performed alongside the likes of Bartok, Copland, Hindemith, and Messiaen. Precious little of hers is in the recording catalog today [..] and we are far the poorer for that absence.
All of her songs are included, here, with the exception of five that form juvenilia, "utalitarian" works (by which the liner notes classify her Songs of the Workers of the Lord and Hymn of the Volunteer Nurses of the Czechoslovak Red Cross, both of which are hopefully more appetizing than their titles), and one late piece that was left in rough form at the time of her death. (Full texts are provided in German, English, French, and the original Czech.) The remainder trace the development of an intelligent artist who was sensitive from the first to the tonal and image color of works, and capable of great refinement. Her earliest surviving songs on this release are Impressionistic, recalling Ravel, but there remains at their core an assertiveness that would in time lead this composer to seek her own solutions to the problems of setting text to music.
Throughout her brief career, Kapralova sought out emotionally evocative, sharply detailed poetry of quality. The works she set thus challenged her from the first to meet their level of intensity and craftsmanship.
I would suggest that the first important composition in the group is Leden
("January") from 1933, with the Impressionistic harmonies already beginning to give way to polytonality and a stark directness of utterance. The unusual accompaniment (piano, flute, two violins, and cello)
is handled expertly - and be it remembered, by an eighteen-year-old.
By the time of her op. 10 collection, Jablko s klina ("Apple from the Lap"), Kapralova had evolved into a musician of expressiveness. Several poems in this set would challenge any composer because, like many of Heine's, each moves through a series of emotional states, rather than emphasizing a single one. As such, if Kapralova misses the constrained despair that Ukolebavka ("Lullaby") eventually becomes, she still catches with grim accuracy the emotionless vacuum of Bezvetri ("Calm"): a wrecked Niniveh, as seen by one of those who survived in body though not spirit.
Kapralova's next group of songs, Navzdy ("Forever"), would be a remarkable achievement for any composer, let alone one in her early twenties. By that time she had added an element of Czech lyricism to her musical language; and
all the elements of that language - Czech, Impressionistic, freely tonal, polytonal - were thoroughly integrated. She'd developed a gift for striking thematic material, too. For example, in the first song (whose title is also Navzdy) a soft, slowly rising, arpeggiated passage on the piano establishes the basic tonality only to suddenly jump the rails, so to speak, and end on a tentative high note sounded in quick, repeated alternation with the octave below. It stunningly mirrors the loneliness and flight evoked by the opening words, "Wild geese are flying south." By subsequently keeping this theme and its transformations in the accompaniment as the soloist moves freely above, Kapralova also leaves herself unconstrained by her material, capable of reflecting delicate shifts in meaning and mood in the voice.
Sbohem a satecek ("Waving Farewell") is the most affecting piece in the collection, and in many respects the most ambitious. It was written shortly before Kapralova left to study with Martinu in Paris, and only days before her final lesson with Novak. (She subsequently orchestrated it, at Martinu's urging.) A song of leaving that finds acceptance in a mixture of regret and joyful memories, there is something of Edna St. Vincent Millay in the music's astonishing mixture of intimacy, vulnerability, and strength.
The rest of the works on this CD serve to confirm the impression of a composer who has realized her full potential. There's the warmly restful Koleda ("Carol"), combining a folk-like theme with a lightly treading accompaniment that wanders over a host of keys; and Muj mily clovece ("My Dear Man"), set to a folk text, exemplifying simple but transcendent faith in its hymn-like textures and shifting harmonies. Pisen tve nepritomnosti ("Song of Your Absence") is an introspective piece of longing whose sharp lines and brilliant command of thematic material indicate the distance traveled in seven years, with subtle detail replacing the general Impressionistic mood of yore.
Buresova's voice is a fine lyric one, with smooth production, perfect evennes in all registers, and a broad range of dynamics. She enunciates the text clearly and truly interprets her material, but never at the expense of the musical line. I wasn't surprised to read--after finishing this album--that she'd studied among others with the great baritone Pavel Lisitsian, who always understood the correct relationship between musical and dramatic interpretation. Timothy Cheek provides superlative accompaniment (and excellent liner notes). This is not the kind of repertoire that can survive passively mechanical support--as if any is; but here, in musically unexplored territory, it would be more obviously injurious to the cause of the composer were that the case. Cheek is a full collaborator with Buresova, and that is saying something.
I do find the typically close microphone placement of Supraphon well balanced between voice and instrument but a bit too close for Buresova. Her Slavic voice clearly has a great deal of heft, and sounds like it could use the reverberance of a small hall to realize its full beauty. It's a minor point, though. I truly enjoyed this recording, and hope that it wil be only the first spotlighting the extraordinary gifts of Kapralova.
Review by Barry Brenesal for Fanfare, January/February 2005. Reprinted by permission.
Vitezslava Kapralova: Songs; CD Supraphon SU 3752-2 231 (2004) - znakomita plyta warta szczegolnego zainteresowania, gdyz prawdziwie i w pelni prezentuje geniusz tworczy w komponowaniu na glos z fortepianem (ocena: ).
Angelika Przezdziek for Muzyka21, January 2005.