The end of the Lenten season culminates in the Passover week with the commemoration of Christ’s Passion, whose motif was also the main dramaturgical idea of the Ensemble Opera Diversa concert entitled Lamento. The Wednesday evening of 29 March was devoted to works on lamentations by Czech and British composers. Conveniently, the ensemble chose for this concert the Baroque Hall of the Convent of the Merciful Brothers, which enhanced the Lenten atmosphere.
The solo viola part in the composition Lachrymae by the British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was taken by violinist and violist Milan Paľa. In the work, the composer refers to the great British Renaissance musician John Dowland with many quotations. The original version of the piece was written for viola and piano with a dedication to violist William Primrose. The second version of the work with string orchestra has the colour and fragility caused by the higher position of the strings, as we had the opportunity to hear in the performance of Ensemble Opera Diversa under the baton of conductor Gabriela Tardon. Palo’s staging was very subtle, with the solo part containing everything the piece demands.
The only world premiere of the evening belonged to the Czech composer, painter, and poet Vladimír Franz (*1959). In his composition Rex Tremendae majestatis for string orchestra and soundtrack, he deals with the issues of the Last Judgement. The apocryphon is thematically concerned with questions and God himself and is built on the principle of balancing musical segments. The philosophical reflections implicit in this composition are given a broader, spiritual dimension by the use of a soundtrack that both sensitively and tastefully interrupts and complements the string orchestra. The highly imaginative voice work in the sound recording had a demonic and naturalistic feel, reminding the listener of the aforementioned Last Judgement. The double basses also sounded hellish, with excellent use of colour in the composition. The fugue in the pizzicato was particularly well executed, with the performers ingeniously building up the themes in their parts. The string orchestra’s precise staging and complete understanding of the composer’s ideas and musical intent left a strong emotional impact.
The third piece of the concert, reflecting the theme of lamentation, was written by British composer and conductor James MacMillan (*1959). Tuireadh (from Gaelic, translated as Requiem) for clarinet and strings looks back to the recent tragic event of 1988, when there was a devastating fire on the Piper Alpha oil rig in the North Sea, in which over one hundred and sixty workers were killed. The composer was inspired by a letter from the mother of one of the dead that described the grieving crowd and the urgent cries during the mourning ceremony. MacMillan musically depicted the lamentations, wails, sobs, and mourning with intervallic and ornamental motifs from Scottish traditional music. The role of clarinettist was performed by Jiří Mráz. The clarinet part in particular contained very sensitively presented ornamental and interval motifs of lamentations. However, the performer’s pianissimo was remarkable. Mráz deserves admiration for his firm, rich tone even in such extreme dynamic and range positions.
The evening closed with the composition Tristium by the Czech composer Viktor Kalabis. Concert Fantasy for viola and strings from 1981 is dedicated to the late family friend Zdeněk Fencl. Again, this is not a mere depiction of melancholy and torment. The work is one of the composer’s most intimate testimonies, thoughtfully teetering on the edge of life and death. This was portrayed by the viola part, again played by Milan Páľa. His second performance, however, was characterised by much greater energy and fury, which corresponded perfectly with the themes of the piece. The thrilling performance of the violist seemed to speak to the audience. Accompanied by the Ensemble Opera Diversa, it was a challenging listening experience, but all the more emotionally powerful.
The melancholy, lamentations, and personal statements that permeated the entire evening were not only intimate and philosophical, but (paradoxically) especially meditative thanks to the thoughtful dramaturgy. The string orchestra under the direction of Gabriela Tardonová worked in its interplay quite naturally. It breathed and gave plasticity, dynamics, and a personality to the phrases. At the same time, however, it did not undermine the two soloists, who, on the contrary, were a solid support and a valuable partner.
Benjamin Britten: Lachrymae for viola and strings
Vladimír Franz: Rex tremendae majestatis for strings and soundtrack (premiere)
James MacMillan: Tuireadh for clarinet and strings (Czech premiere)
Viktor Kalabis: Tristium, Concert Fantasy for viola and strings
Milan Paľa - viola
Jiří Mraz - clarinet
Gabriela Tardonová - conductor
Ensemble Opera Diversa
29 March at 19:00, Convent of the Brothers of Mercy
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