Although cultural life has suffered significantly in the last two months, people's desire for an artistic experience has not faded. On the contrary – art and its role in our lives are perhaps needed even more than before. Hence, although concert halls are empty and listeners are forced to visit them only through recordings of their favourite concerts, a number of well-made music media created (not only) in the beginning of the year helps to bridge over this unfortunate period.
One of the most remarkable recordings released in February 2020 is undoubtedly the new album by the Ensemble Opera Diversa, dedicated to the artistic legacy of Jan Novák. Since 2014, when the ensemble (on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the composer's death) began its pilgrimage through Novák's works, the orchestra has already managed to release two albums. They map the composer's mature and technically refined works, as well as his early pieces. And although both previous albums are more than well done, the latest CD, Jan Novák, Vol. 3, is a true manifesto of how far the orchestra under the direction of conductor Gabriela Tardonová has moved forward.
The new recording contains the last of Jan Novák's so far unrecorded compositions for string orchestra: Concentus biiugis, a concerto for piano four hands and strings performed by Lucie Schinzelová and Kristýna Znamenáčková, and Concentus Eurydicae, a concerto for guitar and string orchestra performed by the guitarist Vít Dvořáček. The album closes with the cycle of variations on Moravian folk songs Rustica Musa II, in which pianists Pavla Marková and Kristýna Znamenáčková joined forces. Until now, the composition has only been available thanks to recordings by foreign performers, which is somewhat hilarious given the sources of inspiration for this work.
While it can be heard on the previous albums that Ensemble Opera Diversa "likes to play Novák", this impression literally shines out from this latest record. The energetic, spontaneous, constant, fervent and intense interpretation at every moment proves that the musicians, led by the conductor Tardonová, really cared about their performance. The particularly intimately close connection between the two elements – the piano and the orchestra – might cause goosebumps in the rushing, frenetically sharp moments of Concentus biiugis. Equally impressive, however, is the opposite extreme, which can be heard right at the beginning of the second composition (Concentus Eurydicae), which, after the sharp rhythmic ostinatos of the piano brings the darkly hissing sound of the string orchestra, above which the enigmatic melody of the guitar floats. Even in this case, the result is more than just the sum of the two parts. Particularly in that delicate and fragile connection between the two elements, somewhere deep between the lines of the score, the Ensemble Opera Diversa manages to find its distinctive recipe for "how to play Novák".
However, what raises the new album onto an imaginary pedestal is the combination of an excellent performing level and fresh dramaturgy. The recording simply "entertains and draws" from start to finish. The third (and last) composition Rustica Musa II can take a great deal of the credit for that, as it successfully upends, after a more or less serious guitar concerto, the tone of the album and gives the listener something new again – this time lively and wide-ranging. After all, who would have expected that a remake of the song Komáři se ženili [The Mosquitoes’ Marriage] would be the real catharsis and an ideal end point… The Ensemble Opera Diversa people anticipated it.
Jan Novák, Vol. 3
Ensemble Opera Diversa
Lucie Schinzelová – piano, Kristýna Znamenáčková – piano, Pavla Marková – piano, Vít Dvořáček – guitar, Gabriela Tardonová – conductor
Recorded in the hall of the Convent of the Merciful Brethren in Brno on 12 May (Concentus biiugis), 2 November (Concentus Eurydicae) and 25 November (Rustica Musa II) 2019. Published by: Vladimír Maňas for Ensemble Opera Diversa. The publisher of Concentus biiugis and Rustica Musa II is Czech Radio. TT: 67:55.