Veverka, Kahánek, Englichová
The Supraphon album “Risonanza” takes its name from Petr Eben’s “6 Risonanza for Harp Solo”, although that is actually the least (in terms of duration) of the included Czech 20th century compositions for various combinations of oboe, harp, and piano. The intrigue begins with the cover. What is oboist Vilém Veverka doing to the chest of the alluringly reclining, gorgeous harpist Kateřina Englichová? Fixing the very bottom of her necklace? Why does pianist Ivo Kahánek look on with thin-lipped disapproval? Curiosity-fuelled closer inspection reveals the risqué scene to be an optical illusion. Note to photographers: small aperture—resulting lack of depth perspective—may make hands and bustier appear closer together than they are.
An early anti-climax, that revelation, but nothing that can stop my curiosity knowing a bit of Eben’s music as I do and having much liked the little I’ve heard of Janáček-student Pavel Haas’ music. Jan Hanuš (1915-2004) is a new musical acquaintance of mine.
The mentioned “6 Risonanza” (1986) are highly attractive solo harp pieces—more engaging than much of the solo harp repertoire I have had the (occasionally dubious) pleasure to hear at the last ARD harp competition. They are not purely virtuosic pieces but instead idiomatic, coy, and colorful tableaux that are connected by a few bars of Mozart quotations that slowly, over the course of the work’s seven minutes, being to rub off on the stretches of music between. Eben’s “Ordo modalis” for oboe and harp (1964), according to the composer, is inspired by the Shakespeare poem “Venus and Adonis”. “If the poem’s theme is a combination of the ancient Ovid motif and its renaissance Shakespeare version, then in [this] music we find inspiration in ancient harp and shawm [as well as] renaissance baroque orientation in the… freely stylized old dances, lined up into a suite.” The modal composition tailored to showcase the harp is full of bubbly, intriguing moments but in need of more attentive listening than it readily encourages.
The Haas Suite for Oboe and Piano is a de-facto vocalise for the oboe on top of a muscular piano sonata. The lyrical, urgently expressive suite was written at the time of—and influenced by—the German invasion of Poland, the fourth neighbor of German to fall, now through outright war, after the Saar, Austria, and Haas’ Czechoslovakia had already been annexed. The writing of future horrors was already on the wall in late 1939, even if Haas could not have foreseen his tragic end in the Holocaust five years later. The liner notes describe the suite, especially the closing moderato, without any hyperbole as “among the best that Czech music has brought forth in the first half of the 20th century.”
That, and Hanuš’ Trio concertante for oboe, harp, and piano (1978) are the best arguments to purchase the recording. What a bold and brisk trio the Hanuš piece is! It’s op.59b because the trio is the composer’s own piano-reduction of the orchestral part of his double concerto op.59a. That would explain the trading of extended solo passages among the harp and oboe. The sonata for oboe and piano, finally, is a particularly happy, buoyant “sonata quasi una fantasia”—written in the spring of 1968, before the events of August 21st that turned a hope-filled year’s start into the blood-stained associations we now have with the “Prague Spring”.
The three performers delight throughout, which means this recital’s appeal will extend beyond just those listeners with a healthy interest in 20th century Czech music or repertoire for the oboe and harp. By how much? Veverka mentions Britten, Dutilleux, and Poulenc as roughly Western analogues to this music. And it is fair to suggest fancying those should be a good indicator of finding the Hanuš-Eben-Haas connection attractive, too.