Reviews have been listed in chronological order by their publication date.
Vitezslava Kapralova Songs: Forever Kapralova. Dana Buresova, Timothy Cheek, Magda Caslavova, Petr Zdvihal, Jan Valta, David Havelik. Supraphon SU 3752-2 231 (2003).
[...] Kapralova's songs, most of which are brief emotional utterances, exhibit an innate ability to create evocative moods, full of interesting harmonies and unexpected modulations. Her vocal music also demonstrates sensitivity to text as she showed an interest in poetry at a very young age. The result is careful and masterful attention to setting Czech inflection all the while writing lovely and soaring melodies. As she was also an accomplished pianist, Kapralova's accompaniments are interesting, frequently adding commentary to the text.
The first two tracks feature Dve pisne, op. 4 (Two songs, from 1932), utilizing the poetry of R. Bojko (pseudonym of Alois Horak, 1877-1952). Although considered early works (Kapralova was a mere seventeen years old), the hallmarks of her mature style are already beginning to emerge, most arguably her remarkable ability to create mood and atmosphere in her piano accompaniments. Also evident is her capacity for matching musical and linguistic prosody. She shows a unique gift for setting the natural inflection of the Czech language, which is of course enhanced by Buresova's consummate ability to shape phrases.
“Jitro” (Morning), the first song, is one of Kapralova's few songs that is upbeat throughout. It is more exuberant and virtuosic for both voice and piano than many of her later works. It begins with a joyous arpeggio figure in the piano, reminiscent of the sun rising, followed soon thereafter by Kapralova's characteristic use of unexpected harmonic turns. As evidenced throughout the CD, Buresova and Cheek work extremely well together. Buresova's ability to change her vocal timbre to match the mood of each song, coupled with her ease of negotiating dynamic contrasts and consistent tone quality throughout all her registers is to be commended. Kapralova exhibits a predilection for wide intervallic leaps in her vocal melodies, and Buresova soars through registration shifts with ease. The brilliant and cheerful quality Cheek elicits from the piano contrasts expertly with Buresova's creamy tone quality. The second song, “Osirely” (Orphaned), in complete contrast to “Jitro,” is more introverted, with brief emotional outbursts and a constant yearning quality through recurring descending figures. As outlined in Cheek's liner notes, it is perhaps autobiographical, as it was composed during a 1932 summer stay at a spa, reminding her of “extended visits to a sanatorium following her parents' separation.” This forlorn work contrasts to “Jitro's” sunny and bright disposition through a sparse and haunting opening, a piano accompaniment scored lower, and ending with a brief and moving piano postlude that slowly unwinds and fades away.
This is followed with the four-song cycle Jiskry z popele, op. 5 (Sparks from ashes, from 1932-1933). These songs display her mature compositional style through utilization of an impressionistic approach, intricate motivic writing, and piano figurations based on intervals derived from the natural inflection of the poetry. These songs were dedicated to her Brno Conservatory classmate and lifelong friend, Ota Vach, with the inscription, “my only love.” He was responsible for introducing Kapralova to the poetry of Bohdan Jelinek (1851-1874). With the exception of several folk texts, Jelinek was the only non-living Czech poet whose texts she set to music and is the poetry used for this cycle.
Although the entire set is stunningly rendered and interpreted by Buresova and Cheek, a mention must be made of tracks four and five, “Jak na hedvabny mech jsem hlavu kladl na bila nadra tva” (Like on silk moss I laid my head on your white bosom) and “o zustan jeste, moje divko draha” (Oh, stay yet, my dear girl). The fourth track begins with a highly effective and atmospheric eight-measure opening section featuring a brief descending piano arpeggio in the right hand, immediately followed by a simple triad in the left hand. This is answered in the vocal line with a static, chant-like melody with a passing a cappella moment. This is repeated with slight variation in measures six through eight. The splendor here is in its simplicity, made even more impactful through Buresova's exquisite shaping of Kapralova's inert vocal line.
The song “o zustan jeste, moje divko draha” (Oh, stay yet, my dear girl), opens with a jubilant trill in the piano introduction, providing an effective contrast to the previous song. The trill figure ties the piece together, like a recurring motive throughout. Additionally, this song is more virtuosic for the voice and the piano, with the vocal line displaying a wide melodic range with much of the melody scored above and below the staff, and the piano accompaniment featuring a swirling figure that comments on the poetry. The triplet figure in the piano is often pitted against a duple figure in the melody throughout much of the song, yet Buresova and Cheek make this difficult song seems effortless.
The set is followed by Leden (January), composed in 1933 and scored for soprano, piano, flute, two violins, and cello. Utilizing sparse textures and constantly evolving sonorities, this atmospheric miniature is expertly played by all. Again, Buresova displays her flair for successfully negotiating vocal register shifts. Her vocal quality is consistent throughout, even when pitted against instruments while singing in a low range.
Tracks eight through eleven include the cycle Jablko z klina, op. 10 (Apple from the lap, from 1934-1936). This masterful set was composed when Kapralova was only twenty years old, and uses the poetry of Jaroslav Seifert (1901-1986), from a poetry collection of the same name. As revealed in Cheek's liner notes, with the exception of the last song, “the cycle portrays a sense of impending doom,” yet each song remains distinct.
The cycle opens with “Pisen na vrbovou pistalku” (Song on the willow fife), beginning the set with a burst of energy complete with sweeping descending lines in the piano and mostly descending figures in the vocal line. It features a constant ebb and flow of sounds and emotional outbursts from soprano and pianist. This is followed with “Ukolebavka” (Lullaby), a strophic song full of bitterness and distrust. Buresova convincingly sings with a sweet and soothing tone befitting of a lullaby despite the angry tone of the poetry. One of my favorite tracks is “Bezvetri” (Calm), the third song from the cycle. It begins with the highly effective use of contrary motion between voice and piano, setting the stage with simple and gloomy beauty. This is one of Kapralova's darkest songs, and it is a haunting and disturbing journey for the listener. Although Buresova and Cheek use completely different colors and timbres, they perfectly match each other's emotional intent in this fascinating juxtaposition.
This is followed with Navzdy, op. 12 (Forever), on tracks twelve through fourteen. Composed between 1936-1937, this cycle uses the poetry of Jan Carek (1898-1966) for the first two songs and of Seifert for the final song. The first piece of the set, also entitled “Navzdy,” is in ABA form, and opens with a slow and sustained vocal line that requires excellent breath control. This is followed with “Cim je muj zal” (What is my grief), which contrasts between beautiful lyricism and parlando passages for the singer, and is expertly negotiated by Buresova. The final song of the set, “Ruce” (Hands), illustrates the ecstasy of a wedding night. The accompaniment highlights an almost impressionistic quality that is interwoven with a syllabic vocal melody. It ends dramatically with a substantial and virtuosic postlude by Cheek and a diva-worthy melismatic phrase expressed joyously by Buresova.
The next three tracks are stand-alone songs, beginning with Sbohem a satecek, op. 14 (Waving farewell, from 1937). At over six minutes in length, this is Kapralova's longest song, befitting for her farewell to Prague before embarking on her journey to Paris to study at the ecole normale de musique and with Martinu. According to Cheek, “the entire song is based on a falling major second that appears in the first word, ‘sbohem' (farewell). This motif, then, fills the entire song with farewells.” The beautiful and exquisite poetry, by Vitezslav Nezval (1900-1958), matched in splendor of music, results in a complicated and bittersweet farewell, both strikingly performed by Cheek and Buresova.
Koleda (Carol), also from 1937, is a concise and entertaining song, dedicated to “my feathered friends.” Most memorable is Buresova's facility with mimicking the many animal noises Kapralova ingeniously employs.
Between 1936-1939, Kapralova composed the song collection Vteriny, op. 18 (Seconds), which on the CD includes tracks eighteen through twenty-five. This interesting compilation of songs was written in Paris, Brno, and Prague for friends, family members, or special occasions. One of my favorite recordings on this CD is the first song of the collection, “Bilym satkem mava kdo se louci” (With a white kerchief he waves). It displays an exquisite marriage between language and melodic rhythm. Buresova's last note is extraordinary, and she is to be commended in her ability to sustain a pianissimo note so effortlessly in a problematic part of the voice. Another highlight of this set is the third song, track eighteen, entitled “Pisen milostna” (Love song). In this 1938 composition, dedicated to a friend on her wedding, Cheek adeptly portrays the three-hundred chirping birds with exhuberant chaos as described in Frantisek Susil's (1804-1868) Moravian folk poem.
This is followed with the three-song cycle, Zpivano do dalky, op. 22 (Sung into the distance, from 1939). The poetry is by Viktor Kripner (1906-1956), and the songs are also dedicated to him. This magnificent and highly contrasting set exemplifies Kapralova's natural gift with prosody, and her innate ability to write piano accompaniments that provide observations on the text. Buresova and Cheek present a superb collaboration throughout the entire set, displaying lovely interplay between voice and piano and exquisitely interweaving textures.
Dana Buresova and Timothy Cheek provide flawless performances in this important addition to the recordings of Vitezslava Kapralova. Both Buresova and Cheek display expertise in portraying the many intricate and complicated facets of this hauntingly beautiful vocal music, and their CD is a must-have for anyone interested in the music of Kapralova. The CD tracks (in mp3 format) are offered through ITunes and amazon.com.
Review by Michelle Latour for Kapralova Society Journal 9, no. 2 (Fall 2011): 10-11. Reprinted by permission.
Women of Firsts. Daniel Weeks.
The romantic intensity of all the songs is noteworthy; all these composers avoided the conventional, and the whole group carries an intriguing interior mood, often expressed in one kind of symbolic language or another [...]. The most experimental songs are those by Kapralova, who died at age 25 and whose works are yielding unsuspected riches; she expanded an Impressionist language into a slightly polytonal realm.
From a review by James Manheim for allmusic.com
Festival uprostred Evropy slavil se svetovou premierou
[...] Na zamku Decin zazilo festivalove publikum hudebni svetovou premieru. V prostredi potemnele klenby [...] vystoupilo renomovane nemecke dechove Trio Lézard s programem nazvanym "Z Parize do Prahy - prazdniny pana Ferrouda" [...].
Prekvapeni navstevnici zde byli jako prvni na svete svedky Tria pro dechove nastroje od Vitezslavy Kapralove z roku 1937, jehoz fragment v brnenskem muzeu nalezl a doplnil hobojista Lézardu Stéphane Egeling.
Zvukomalebna, divoka skladba okouzlujicim zpusobem pripomnela kratky zivot velmi nadejne skladatelky [...].
Na nasledne velmi vrele a nadsene ovace publika reagovali hudebnici jeste rozloucenim v podobe kultivovane rozevlate jazzove improvizace na bashoboj, kontrafagot a saxofon.
From a review by Tomas Kabrt, written for Harmonie 9 (September 2011): 62.
Vitezslava Kapralova - songs of Czech independence. Forever Kapralova: Songs. Supraphon SU 3752-2 231 (2003).
[...] January, for voice, piano, flute, two violins and cello [...] is a beautiful piece. [...]
Exquisite balance, the instruments (especially seductive cello) curving round the voice, slowly encircling it, and this is just Kapralova's op. 5!
[...] An Apple from the Lap is another group of songs to texts by Jaroslav Seifert, another avant-garde liberal and colleague of Nezval - Kapralova chooses contemporary texts, nothing safe or easy. [..] Like her poets, much older and cannier than she is,
Kapralova mixes different moods deftly. [...]
Sbohem a satecek (Waving Farewell) [...] is a masterpiece. The text is Nezval, not symbolist but extremely sophisticated emotionally.
[...] Had she lived, Kapralova might have eclipsed Martinu altogether, much as I like him, as she was such an individualistic original.
From a review by Doundou Tchil, classical-iconoclast.blogspot.com, August 14, 2011.
Tri festivalove vrcholy: (3) Trio Prisma plne energie i citu.
Cely koncert, poradany 22.6. v kapli sv. Josefa Kalasanskeho v Kyjove, drzela dramaturgicky pohromade formalni prehlednost a stylova spriznenost interpretovanych del. [...]
Ritornel Vitezslavy Kapralove pro violoncello a klavir vytvoril zadumany predel mezi dvema optimisticky ladenymi kompozicemi. Violoncellista Adrian van Dongen zahral svuj part
s citem, ale energicky a bez sentimentu. Timothy Lissimore hral lyricky a presne, s dynamickymi vrcholy setril a prave jeho styl hry, vystavba a pointovani frazi tmelil projev celeho tria a tvoril jeho pevny zaklad.
Devadesat minut hudby 20. stoleti bez pauzy udrzelo publikum v kyjovske kapli sv. Josefa Kalasanskeho po celou dobu v napjate pozornosti...
From a review by Boris Klepal for Hudebni revue 8 (2011): 12.
Zamek Decin zazil uzasnou hudebni svetovou premieru
[..] Vrcholem koncertu byla svetova premiera Tria pro dechove nastroje od Vitezslavy Kapralove z roku 1937, jehoz fragment v brnenskem muzeu nalezl a doplnil hobojista Lezardu Stephane Egeling. Zvukomalebna, divoka skladba okouzlujicim zpusobem pripomnela kratky zivot nadejne skladatelky, blizke pritelkyne dalsich
vyjimecnych parizskych Cechu Bohuslava Martinu a Jiriho Muchy. Historicky prvni verejne uvedeni teto kompozice uvedla festivalovemu publiku v Decine osobne predsedkyne mezinarodni spolecnosti Vitezslavy Kapralove Karla Hartlova.
From a review by Tomas Kabrt and Lida Vesela for Litomericky denik, June 30, 2011.
Vitezslava Kapralova - discovery!
Kapralova's chamber and orchestral music is fascinating. What a distinctive sound she has, even though she was so young. She's highly original, in a vaguely Janacek style, energetic and inventive.
Yet you can already hear her opening out, after she moves to Paris in 1937. You can imagine her going far, leaving Martinu well behind.
Doundou Tchil, classical-iconoclast.blogspot.com, June 1, 2011.
Compositrici da primato nella musica cameristica. La Centaur Records propone un cd rivolto a prestigiose figure della musica al femminile.
Il loro perfetto affiatamento, inoltre, crea una giusta atmosfera, che restituisce la forte intensita, legata a testi per la maggior parte nostalgici e struggenti, contribuendo anche ad evidenziare i diversi stili delle quattro compositrici, il che rende il cd, nel suo complesso, imperdibile per tutti gli appassionati di musica cameristica.
From a review by Marco del Vaglio for AGIRE, June 2011.
Women of Firsts
A partire dalla fine dell'Ottocento, e per tutto il Novecento, la storia della musica è ricca di figure femminili di notevole spessore, la cui notorietà non si limitò al paese di nascita, ma raggiunse tutto il mondo.
Ce lo ricorda un cd della Centaur Records, intitolato “Women of First”, che ha affidato al tenore Daniel Weeks e alla pianista Naomi Oliphant quattro brani, di altrettante compositrici, distintesi in un settore considerato di stretta competenza maschile
L'apertura è dedicata a Vitezlava Kapralova (Brno, 1915-Montpellier, 1940) che, nonostante la brevissima esistenza, stroncata dalla tisi, ancora oggi rimane un saldo punto di riferimento della musica ceca e detiene diversi primati.
Fu, infatti, la prima donna a diplomarsi in composizione e direzione d'orchestra, nonche la prima rappresentante femminile a condurre l'Orchestra Filarmonica Ceca e l'Orchestra della BBC, in quest'ultimo caso durante il Festival di Musica Contemporanea che si svolse a Londra nel 1938.
Nel disco è presente con Forever, op. 12 (1936-37), tre brevi pezzi scritti nel 1936-37 su liriche dei poeti cechi Jan Carek e Jaroslav Seifert (premio Nobel per la letteratura nel 1984), in cui vi è quasi un presagio di una fine che sarebbe avvenuta lontana da casa.
Seconda autrice in programma, Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969), in assoluto la prima compositrice polacca ad ottenere riconoscimenti nazionali ed internazionali, cosa ancora più rimarchevole, se consideriamo il suo stile musicale, molto moderno e quindi in aperto contrasto con il regime stalinista.
Alla sua produzione appartengono i Tre canti per tenore ed orchestra, risalenti al 1938, su testi di un ignoto autore arabo, poi arrangiati nel 1958 nella versione per tenore e pianoforte registrata nel cd.
Anche la statunitense Amy Cheney (1867-1944) meriterebbe un articolo a parte per la sua lunga carriera.
Pianista prodigio, interruppe l'attività di solista dopo il matrimonio con il fisico Henry Beach, continuando quella di compositrice, per tornare alla ribalta concertistica una volta diventata vedova.
A lei si deve, fra l'altro, la prima sinfonia scritta da una donna americana (pubblicata sotto lo pseudonimo Mrs. H.H.A.).
Il disco della Centaur mette in evidenza le Three Browning Songs, scritte tra il 1895 ed il 1900 attingendo alla produzione poetica del britannico Robert Browning.
La chiusura dell'incisione è sotto il segno di Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), prima donna a vincere il prestigiosissimo Prix de Rome nel 1913.
Sorella della leggendaria Nadia, docente che formò generazioni di compositori, ebbe una carriera luminosa, prematuramente interrotta a causa della sindrome di Crohn, una malattia rara e devastante, diagnosticatale da bambina, che la accompagnò per tutta la sua brevissima esistenza.
Ottimo esempio della sua produzione è rappresentato da Clairières dans le Ciel (1913-14), che copre più della metà del cd, ciclo formato da tredici pezzi tratti dall'omonima raccolta del poeta simbolista francese Francis Jammes.
Alle origini della raccolta vi sarebbe probabilmente una storia d'amore fra Lili e David Devriès, tenore che eseguì in prima assoluta la composizione nel 1918, giusto una settimana prima della morte della Boulanger.
Uno sguardo, ora, ai due interpreti, il tenore Daniel Weeks e la pianista Naomi Oliphant.
Il primo evidenzia una voce molto bella ed espressiva, mentre la seconda risulta dotata di un tocco raffinato ed elegante.
Insieme, grazie ad un perfetto affiatamento e ad una innata sensibilità, riescono a creare un' atmosfera che restituisce integralmente la forte intensità legata a testi sovente nostalgici e struggenti.
In conclusione un cd di grande interesse, prodotto grazie agli sforzi dei due esecutori, ed al contributo finanziario congiunto dell'Università di Louisville e della Kapralova Society, che aggiunge un altro tassello alla conoscenza della musica al femminile.
A review by Marco del Vaglio for criticaclassica, June 5, 2011. Reprinted by permission.
Umelci na koncerte vyjadrili poctu Gustavu Mahlerovi
uvod vecera patril vyberu z pisni vyjimecne skladatelky prvni poloviny dvacateho stoleti Vitezslavy Kapralove. Celkem pet pisni, v nichz skladatelka dokazala na velmi malem prostoru vystihnout vnitrni atmosferu textu, vyjadrila Polaskova nadmiru expresivne, avsak zaroven nesmirne citlive.
From a review by David Kanovsky for Olomoucky denik, 5.4.2011.
Women of Firsts: Art songs by the first important Twentieth Century women composers from the Czech Republic, Poland, United States, and France.
Composers: Vitezslava Kapralova, Grazyna Bacewicz, Amy Beach, Lili Boulanger. Performers: Daniel Weeks, tenor; Naomi Oliphant, piano. Centaur Recordings, CRC 2966 (2008).
Upon first glance, one would assume that a CD entitled Women of Firsts would feature a female voice and piano duo. However, this CD features tenor Daniel Weeks and pianist Naomi Oliphant in a wonderful recording of familiar and unfamiliar vocal compositions from four female composers who were “true pioneers in their field.” Kapralova was the first woman to conduct the Czech Philharmonic; Bacewicz was the first female composer in Poland to receive national and international attention; Beach was one of the first American women composers to successfully compose in large compositional forms in addition to garnering critical acclaim in Europe; Boulanger was the first female composer to win the famed Prix de Rome at only 19 years old.
The first three tracks on this recording feature the cycle Navzdy (Forever) by Vitezslava Kapralova. These evocative songs are typical of Kapralova's compositional style, displaying an ethereal and otherworldly quality through the use of interesting harmonies and unexpected modulations coupled with expansive vocal lines and frequent wide intervallic leaps in the melody. This set is beautifully performed by Weeks and Oliphant, with Weeks demonstrating exquisite phrasing and musicality, in addition to expertly negotiating the contrasting demands of parlando and bel canto singing.
This is followed with Grazyna Bacewicz's song cycle, Trzy piesni do slow arabskich z X wieku (Three songs to words from the tenth century Arab poetry), originally scored for tenor and orchestra in 1938, and later arranged for tenor and piano. This brief yet highly varied set certainly deserves its place in art song repertoire. "Mamidlo" (Mirage) was a lovely surprise for me, as it is accessible and tonal, yet with brief flashes of chromaticism and a melancholy sensation all at once. However, the highlight of this cycle is the second song, "Inna" (Other Woman). A mere 43 seconds in length, the song features the piano as the more prominent character, employing “a polytonal, ostinato pattern to invoke the nearby lover, while more lyrical and flowing material is used with expressive and tonal harmonies to illustrate the other woman.”
Although Amy Beach's cycle, Three Browning Songs, have been recorded by numerous artists, Weeks' and Oliphant's version is to be commended. The best part of this set is Weeks' high notes—they are glorious and plentiful. Although the tempo in the first song, “The Year's at the Spring,” is a bit slow, Weeks and Oliphant make up for this in the second song, “Ah, Love, but a day!” This is their best performance of the entire CD. Oliphant plays the poignant piano part with utmost clarity, and Weeks' facility with his upper register is quite remarkable. His high notes are loud, resonant, and beautiful.
The final cycle on the recording is Clairières dans le Ciel, by Lili Boulanger. This cycle is also well-represented in numerous recordings, although it is performed by more sopranos despite the fact that it was composed for tenor, David Devriès. Although many of the tempi are too fast in this recording, mention must be made of Par ce que j'ai souffert. The dramatic and intense suffering in this piece is expertly performed, and the duo makes this extremely difficult song sound incredibly easy, with seamless transitions between tempi, dynamic, expressive, and harmonic changes.
The CD liner notes are thorough, well-written and insightful, offering information on each composer, describing compositional techniques, discussing historical context, and providing translations. Women of Firsts is a thoughtful and musical presentation of important female composers whose music deserves to be heard more often.
From a review by Michelle Latour written for the Kapralova society Journal, 9, no. 1 (2011), 11.
Preludium Renaty Bialasove pro V. Kapralovou a B. Martinu.
[...] Dila V. Kapralove a B. Martinu fascinuji formou i brilantnim sarmem. A stejny sarm nachazime ve skvele interpretaci R. Bialasove...[..].
From a CD review by Kvetuse Lepilova for KAM (February 2011).