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Fišer, Jemelík, Slavický, Sluka

F10207   8595017420726   released 5/2015

1     Luboš Fišer: IV Sonata for piano    

       Luboš Sluka: Sonata per pianoforte
2     Grave. Appassionato    
3     Allegro ritmico     

       Klement Slavický: Sonata for piano "Contemplation of Life"
4     Grave. Molto allegro impetuoso     
5     Largo misterioso    
6     Molto vivo, deciso    

       Antonín Jemelík: Three Melodramas
7     Little Alabaster Dove  
8     A Fable   
9     Autumn Song  

10    Antonín Jemelík / Luboš Sluka: Lullaby for voice and piano 

Barbora K. Sejáková, piano
Terezie Švarcová, soprano
Marie Tomášová, narration

play all Antonín Jemelík Deleted History 52:49
IV.Sonáta pro klavír 8:52
Grave. Appassionato 6:54
Allegro ritmico 2:49
Grave. Molto allegro impetuoso 9:46
Largo misterioso 9:20
Molto vivo, deciso 4:43
Bělounká holubička 1:32
Pohádka 1:59
Podzimní píseň 3:06
Ukolébavka pro zpěv a klavír 3:42

Antonín Jemelík was an outstanding Czech pianist, a promising composer, and a poet, but his name has nearly been forgotten. Jemelík is now known only to the oldest generation of people who were able to experience first hand the stupendously promising rise of his artistic career beginning in the mid-1950s. Middle-aged and younger generations know almost nothing about him (although I wish it were otherwise) – and it is hardly surprising: Jemelík’s soaring career was unfortunately just as brief as it was spectacular. He died before his thirty-second birthday under circumstances that are more than mysterious and that have not been clearly explained to this day. Most of the recordings of Jemelík’s artistry were erased. In this way, the totalitarian regime wiped Jemelík’s artistic legacy off the face of the earth.
     Especially for the sake of the younger generation, we will begin with at least some basic biographical information about Jemelík. He was born on 25 October 1930 in Olomouc, and he spent his childhood in Valašské Meziříčí, where he completed secondary school (1942-1946) and received a musical education from the local teacher and choirmaster Václav Dittrich, a graduate of the conservatory in Brno. Jemelík’s piano teacher was Jaroslav Kruťa. From 1946 until 1951, Jemelík studied under František Maxián, Sr. at the Prague Conservatory, then at the Academy of Performing Arts in the studio of František Rauch. Already as a student, he drew attention to himself by giving several public concerts and by success at competitions in his homeland and abroad. He was regarded as one of the greatest young Czech pianistic talents and had a promising international career. Right from the beginning of his artistic journey, he devoted himself not only to the classical repertoire, but also to contemporary Czech piano music. Among the works that he premiered were Luboš Fišer’s First Piano Sonata (1956) and Klement Slavický’s Sonata subtitled Zamyšlení nad životem (“Contemplation of Life” – 1958). Unfortunately, his promising career was cut short by his tragic death on 14 January 1962, and the cause of his death has not been satisfactorily explained to this day.
     All of the compositions on this recording are directly associated with Jemelík: this is undoubtedly obvious in the case of Jemelík’s own works, but it also applies to three piano sonatas dedicated to the memory of Antonín Jemelík.
     Luboš Fišer (1935- 1999) was one of Jemelík’s classmates and a close friend. In 1956, Jemelík gave the premiere of Fišer’s First Piano Sonata, and his superlative performance convinced both the public and music critics of the extraordinary qualities of the work and to a great degree also guided the composer towards his later creative path, which was unique in the field of the piano sonata in Czech music. Fišer’s immediate reaction to his friend’s sudden and unexpected death was his Fourth Piano Sonata (1962-64). The work is inspired by the last composition that Jemelík was said to have been studying before his death – Alexander Scriabin’s Tenth Sonata. Fišer took the ascending three-bar theme of Scriabin’s Tenth Sonata as the key musical material for his own sonata. The work’s expression is extraordinarily agitated and dramatically explosive (similar, for example, to his immediately preceding Sonata for Violin and Piano subtitled “Hands”, dated 1961), like an eloquent testament to the tragic subject matter that inspired it. Instead of classical thematic development, we find here lines and textures that are built up by addition – individual motifs and musical passages are juxtaposed in sharp contrasts to a very moving expressive effect. The sonata is in one movement (like Scriabin’s Tenth Sonata) and is of a length (ca. 9 minutes) similar to that of Scriabin’s work. Pavel Štěpán gave its first performance in 1965.
     Luboš Sluka (1928) also belonged to Jemelík’s circle of friends, and he dedicated his Piano Sonata (1988) to Jemelík. The basic structural layout of this work also consists of a single movement, but within it there is a detailed division into a number of mutually contrasting sections connected without a pause. As in the case of Fišer’s sonata, this highly expressive music does not deny its powerful source of inspiration, heightened in this instance by a feeling of the danger of the loss of awareness about Jemelík’s tragic fate. While Fišer’s music, in this respect, is an immediate reaction crying out in distress and sorrow, Sluka’s sonata, coming more than twenty years later, makes an urgent appeal to the listener’s memory and conscience. In the first part (Grave. Appassionato), brilliantly dynamic passages alternate with slower, more chordal sections, but drama and the high degree of expressivity are not abandoned even in the sections at a slower tempo, and restless tension continues even in the passages with quieter dynamics, where Sluka quotes a slow theme from Jemelík’s melodrama Bělounká holubička (Little Alabaster Dove). The somewhat longer and more unified concluding section (Allegro ritmico) is the sonata’s de facto second movement. With its toccata-like motor rhythms, this explosive music makes extreme technical demands. The continually loud dynamics and massive piano sound drive the music ahead literally like an apocalyptic specter, without interruption or even a respite right up to the succinct, resolute conclusion.
     Klement Slavický (1910-1999) composed his Sonata subtitled Zamyšlení nad životem (“Contemplation of Life”) in 1958. It is a work with a very serious message, one of the most representative and artistically successful works produced by a Czech composer in the late 1950s. At the time, five years after Stalin’s death and shortly after the official acknowledgement of Stalin’s crimes by Soviet officials, Czechoslovakia entered a period of profound disillusionment from the realization and gradual (although only cautious and very grudging) admission of the truth about the dark, even tragic aspects of the first ten years of the “building of Socialism” in former Czechoslovakia. This led many artists to deep reflection over a stage in their lives when a large number of them, often out of sincere enthusiasm and sympathy for the cause of socialism, had been more or less engaged (although that was not the case with Slavický!). Czech music went through a stage of devastatingly tragic testimony to the trauma the nation had experienced, especially through large-scale, dramatic symphonies. Slavický poured his deep philosophical contemplation of life into a piano sonata, which has become one of the most important Czech piano sonatas of the 20th century. The sonata’s final form is the result of a tenacious creative struggle, and it bears witness to the arrival of Slavický’s new, climactic artistic period. The outer movements of this large-scale three-movement work, lasting over twenty minutes, contain music of high drama and conflict: the first movement opens with a brief prologue, a broad, pathos-filled gesture, followed by music full of conflict that nearly leaves the listener breathless. Ruggedly dramatic passages alternate successively with three calmer, contemplative sections, into which restlessness and tension are still constantly interjecting themselves. The sonically dense, reverberating opening movement is followed by the calm meditation of the second movement with quiet dynamics and a predominance of bright timbres of the piano’s upper register. Only twice is the generally serene rapture of the music gently agitated, only to return to a calm state, with its final utterance fading into absolute silence. The third movement is an energetic finale in the character of a toccata with a short breather in the middle section and a massive buildup to the stark, terse conclusion. Slavický’s Sonata is not only music of enormous depth of content, but also effective, colorful, and attractive in the best sense of the word for both the performer and the audience (the composer himself was a superb pianist). Once again, it was Antonín Jemelík who gave the work’s premiere in 1958 under circumstances that were not entirely usual: he played the sonata twice on the same evening.
     The next four compositions on this recording commemorate Jemelík as a composer. Antonín Jemelík (1930-1962) was above all an excellent pianist, but he an artistic personality with versatile gifts, and his spontaneous creativity naturally led him to composing. From his modest legacy as a composer, this recording presents three little concert melodramas with piano. The work consists of brief, lyrical reflections on love poems by two Czech poets – Jiří Orten (Little Alabaster Dove) and Fráňa Šrámek (A Fable) – and Paul Verlaine’s Autumn Song, imbued with autumnal nostalgia (autumn of life?). Marie Tomášová, the performer on the present recording, premiered the Melodramas with Jemelík at the piano. The recording of the melodramas first appeared in the album Český melodram (Czech Melodrama) issued by Supraphon in 1982 on phonograph records. The recording was digitalized in 2013. The musically simple Lullaby for voice and piano is being recorded for the very first time. For the purposes of the recording, Luboš Sluka has made an arrangement of this little gem from the composer’s estate based on words by Mikhail Y. Lermontov.

Jaromír Havlík

Barbora K. Sejáková (1978) began playing the piano with Jaroslava Čapková. She studied at the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague under Emil Leichner, at the Universität der Künste Berlin (László Simon), and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg (Hans Leygraf), and she has taken part in masterclasses with many great pianists (including Lazar Berman, Eugen Indjic, Avo Kouyoumdjian, and Anne Queffélec). She is a laureate of several international competitions including 1st prize at the Czech-Japanese Piano Competition, 1st prize at the 1999 Bohuslav Martinů Piano Competition, and 3rd prize at the 2001 Ignacy Jan Paderewski International Competition in Poland. She has won five awards for the best performances of works by Bohuslav Martinů. She gives concerts at international music festivals (Prague Spring, Festival de Bourgogne, European Piano Forum, Concentus Moraviae, the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in Finland etc.), and she makes recordings for Czech Radio and Czech Television. She is the pianist of the Trio Bergerettes and is a member of the Czech Artists’ Forum (Umělecká beseda). Her main fields of interest are Czech and contemporary music.

Marie Tomášová (1929) is a leading Czech actress and a graduate of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. From 1955 until 1965, she was a member of the theatrical troupe of the National Theatre (she was unforgettable as Shakespeare’s Juliet, Viola in Twelfth Night, Ophelia in Hamlet, Cordelia in King Lear, Nina in Chekhov’s The Seagull, and Dorotka in Tyl’s The Strakonice Bagpiper), and from 1965 until 1972 she performed at the Divadlo za branou (Theatre beyond the Gate) under the stage director Otomar Krejča (Topol’s A Cat on the Rails and An Hour of Love, Sophocles’ Antigone, Chekhov’s Three Sisters etc.). She has also played a number of roles in film (including Johanka in the Hussite Trilogy, Dorotka in The Strakonice Bagpiper, September Nights, The Morality of Mrs. Dulská, Green Horizons, and That Kind of Love). With the arrival of ‘normalization’ in the wake of the Soviet occupation, she was forced to cease her activities at the Theatre beyond the Gate. Given the political situation, the only place where Marie Tomášová was able to work between 1972 and 1989 was with Supraphon, where she presented her artistry through poetry recitations recorded for the Lyra pragensis label. At the reopened Theatre beyond the Gate, from 1990 until ’94 she acted in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, Hofmannsthal’s An Impossible Man, and Pirandello’s The Giants of the Mountain. She also devoted herself to performing melodramas. She collaborated with Antonín Jemelík, Milan Munclinger (Ariadne auf Naxos by Jiří Antonín Benda), Jan Klusák, Petr Eben, Marek Kopelent, Sylvie Bodorová and other artists. In 2009 she won the Thalia Award for lifetime achievement in theatre.

Terezie Švarcová (1982) studied voice at the Prague Conservatory in the studio of Jarmila Krásová and composition with Eduard Douša. In 2014 she completed her Master’s studies at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague under the guidance of Juraj Filas. From 2003 until 2009 she was a soloist with the Moravian Theatre in Olomouc, where she performed a number of roles including Gilda (Guiseppe Verdi: Rigoletto), Manon (Jules Massenet: Manon), Juliette (Charles-François Gounod: Romeo et Juliette), Susana (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro), Terinka (Antonín Dvořák: Jakobín), and Constance (Francis Poulenc: Dialogue of the Carmelites). Since 2009, she has been systematically focusing her attention on the field of chamber music (she is a founding member of a trio called the Morgenstern Ensemble), devoting herself primarily to the interpretation of contemporary Czech music.

© Studio Svengali, July 2024
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