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Zdeněk Lukáš´s Compositions on an Inspiring CD; Pilsen Cultural Program – Culture – February 2009

The composer Zdeněk Lukáš (1928 – 2007) had a lot of ties with Pilsen. He used to work here as a radio editor and returned here also after he had moved to Prague, most often to the choir Czech Song, but also to other interpreters that he came to know during his activities. If music history is to evaluate Zdeněk Lukáš´s place in the development of Czech music after a lapse of time, it will describe his name with a number of unique attributes. He remains one of the most frequently played and most prolific composers, frequently sought after by interpreters. Performing his instrumental works, with their inventive pleasing melodies, requires perfect presentation. After all, the majority of his pieces were inspired by our greatest artists, including Josef Suk and the Suk Chamber Orchestra.

Mainly this collection has given rise to this CD that is unique both with its instrumentalists and the technical quality of its records. It was recorded at the Czech Public Radio studio in Pilsen by a team led by the music director Antonín Bulka in 2005-2006. Concertino Dedicato (1997), dedicated to Maestro Suk, and Double Concerto for Violin, Double Bass and Orchestra (2000) give a great opportunity to show excellent instrumental skills of the violinist Martin Kos and the double bass player Tomáš Vybíral. Both the artists are also members of another chamber orchestra – the Mladota Ensemble Prague, on the CD presented by Zdeněk Lukáš´s Sextet for Two Violins, Viola, Violoncello, Double Bass and Piano (2004). In addition to the artists already mentioned, the sextet members are: Dana Truplová (violin), Karel Untermüller (viola), Tomáš Strašil (violoncello) and Štěpán Kos (piano). The series of instrumental compositions, created during the last decade of the composer’s life, also includes Te Alle Cinque for Violin, Piano and Orchestra (2003) and Canti for String Orchestra, op. 175.

Thanks to the activities of local choirs, it is Zdeněk Lukáš´s vocal works that are better known to listeners in Pilsen. The present CD can expand their experiences by new dimensions. It is of great benefit for Pilsen that one of the protagonists of all the records – the violinist Martin Kos – is the Maestro’s successor in leading the Suk Chamber Orchestra. In resent years, he has also acted as concert master of the Opera Ensemble of the J.K. Tyl Theatre in Pilsen.
Author: Marta Ulrychová

CD Zdeněk Lukáš – Review; Musical Review - January 2009

There is no need to introduce the composer Zdeněk Lukáš (1928 – 2007) to music-loving audience – he is one of the most frequently played and sung Czech contemporary composers. Despite its diversity, his musical language, distinctly inspired by folklore, is always clearly “recognizable”, and it is distinctive through its unlimited melodic invention with a clear formal as well as musical structure. All compositions on the CD are dedicated to the Suk Chamber Orchestra or its members and were written between 1982 and 2004.

Concertino Dedicato for Violin and String Orchestra is from 1997 and is dedicated to Josef Suk and the Suk Chamber Orchestra. It was first played at a concert within the Prague Spring International Music Festival as part of the composer’s seventieth birthday celebrations. After 2000, when Josef Suk closed his soloist artistic career, the SCO´s current concert master Martin Kos has added this composition to his repertoire and often includes it in concert programs. No wonder: in terms of interpretation, it is a rewarding piece of music, using fully both technical and acoustic possibilities of the violin. Melodic parts full of ardor alternate with impressive technical passages that from time to time (especially in two-voice passages in the third movement) sound like a distant reminiscence of some distinctive motives from the author’s cycle for male choir with solo violin The Spring Is Opening, which was composed in 1971--a beautiful piece of music which has not lost anything of its topicality and freshness.

The following Double Concerto for Violin, Double Bass and String Orchestra opens a completely different world. The lightheartedness and playfulness of the previous piece changes to a mystic atmosphere, the first tones of which are characterized by a unison in the double bass as well as by a maintained f-tone in the violin; however, separated by six (!) octaves. This “out-of-space-and-time” tone starts to be interrupted in syncopated rhythm by short secco entries in tutti strings (in tone sequence f – g – as – f), and the atmosphere becomes full of tension. The composition as a whole then gradually develops into a beautiful dialogue of solo instruments (more and more frequently based on their large interval distance), into which the tutti players bring a constant element of disquiet. I have to add that the performances of both the soloists, the already mentioned Martin Kos and the double bass player Tomáš Vybíral, are fantastic; they mastered the extraordinarily difficult parts with such virtuosity that it is a wonderful musical experience to listen to this recording. The composition was dedicated to Josef Suk and Tomáš Vybíral and comes from 1999.

Also the next composition on the CD, Sextet for Two Violins, Viola, Violoncello, Double Bass and Piano, offers a wonderful listening experience. The composition’s dedication reads: “Composed for Mladota Ensemble in August 2004“. It is really pleasant and inspiring to perceive the artistry of individual players and, simultaneously, the harmony of this young choir. The Mladota Ensemble Prague was established as a chamber association of the Suk Chamber Orchestra, and on the recording it is represented by Martin Kos and Dana Truplová – violin, Karel Untermüller – viola, Tomáš Strašil – violoncello, Tomáš Vybíral – double bass, and Štěpán Kos – piano.

Having come back from hospital in 2003, the author composed the following: Te Alle Cinque for Violin, Piano and Orchestra as “a kind of resurrection … only for the Suk Orchestra I decided to compose this score“ (Zdeněk Lukáš). For me, this composition represents musical pictures with sound rising procedures typical of Bohuslav Martinů (and/or Antonín Dvořák), bringing a feeling of joy of creating as such, which are, in an original way, pervaded by perturbing motific streams resulting from the fresh hard life experience. The soloists, brothers Martin and Štěpán Kos, are excellent once again.

The concluding four songs for string orchestra called Canti, op. 175 represent Zdeněk Lukáš´s oldest works on the CD; with pauses, the author wrote them for the Suk Chamber Orchestra from 15 July to 28 August 1982 at his weekend house in Jílové. The individual parts are entitled: 1. Canto Dramatico – 2. Canto d’Amore – 3. Canto Corale – 4. Canto di Danza, and the music represents clearly the characteristics of those titles.

The CD was recorded in an excellent sound quality with spatially balanced and compact sound. It was released on 11 September 2008 during the second SCO-subscription-series concert at the Church of St. Simon and Juda in Prague. Listening to the CD will leave you with a feeling of delight in perfect harmony and, in places, folk “playfulness”, which a less familiar listener would hardly expect from a contemporary composer. And as the compositions are interpreted by such an excellent orchestra – the Suk Chamber Orchestra – the record will bring an extraordinary musical experience across various groups of listeners.
Author: Petr Matuszek

Festival "Konzerte im Fronhof" - July 2006, Augsburg (Germany)

comming soon!
Augsburger Allgemeine No. 169

“Musical Jewels from Prague through Europe to the World”, 7th - 27th of June 2006, Rudolfinum - Suk Hall

In June, 2006, in Suk Hall of the Rudolfinum, under the patronage of the City of Prague, the tenth jubilee of the running of the cycle of chamber concerts “Musical Jewels from Prague through Europe to the World” was held. The cycle was comprised of five concerts, (on June 7, 13, 18, 20 and 27), and was organized and performed by the Suk Chamber Orchestra. The second to the last concert was performed by the chamber orchestra Mladota Ensemble Prague. Some of the members play in both groups, and their dramaturgy and interpreting characteristics and effort can be somewhat perceived as one. The Suk Chamber Orchestra (SKO) began performing in 1974, today boasting over three decades of intensive work performing shows or recording at home and abroad. On the other hand, the Mladota Ensemble Prague (ME) was just created in 2003. But in that short time, it has attained quite noteworthy recognition. One must add that ME sprang from SKO, which explains its interrelation and kinship.

This year’s “Musical Jewels”, just like the previous nine years, was an expression of not only program dramaturgy, but also of a high interpretation level and of its mission – to provide Prague’s citizens and visitors alike with meaningful music, from well-known titles and proven qualities, to music lesser known or completely unknown to the general public, but of no less a level of quality of the composition and its performance. Also, this year’s authorship and genre profile faithfully reflected the aim and efforts of both SKO and ME alike.

Attention was understandably dedicated to compositions of W.A. Mozart, and stylistically related tiers of works by the classicist authors of the 18th century, mainly Joseph and Michael Haydn, Jan Krtitel Vanhal and Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf. SKO seems to have a bit of luck in building its repertoire, where it makes careful selections of literature of the serenade and suite type – let’s remember the unforgettable Josef Suk and Antonin Dvorak, as well as Leos Janacek and world-renown authors Ottorino Respighi, Edward Grieg and Benjamin Britten. Both of these ensembles, as it has already been stated, stylishly present entirely unknown works on the concert podium, which people would probably never hear otherwise. This time for instance, ME presented – at the beginning – the Quintet in H minor, Opus 40 of the South Moravian Slovak author, born in Budapest, Dora Pejačević. One of the group ME’s principles is that in this spirit, they perform unusual works of various, in reduced but yet sometimes complete assembly - from duets to sextets. Special, and for SKO and ME also characteristic attention is paid to works from romantic, and in terms of interpretation characteristic rendering in individual symbiosis of unsentimental, but glowing expression. Both groups also dedicate their work to newer period, and even entirely contemporary material, or Czech compositions. This year for example, listeners could enjoy the compositions of Zdenek Lukas.

The level of all performers participating is particularly well-balanced. All are expressive individuals, and they are also remarkable and balanced chamber players. We would like to name at least some of them. In the lead is the concert master, Martin Kos. The performance of this humble, but unusually sharp, multifaceted and conscientious conductor is careful, while yet above matters, precise in terms of intonation and rhythm. His conducting is truly that of a virtuoso, and it remains unaffected in terms of expression. It is a joy to listen and to watch him – from the first violin he unpretentiously, but effectively leads the entire orchestra and manages to imprint his seal of singular performance. Martin’s younger brother, pianist Stepan Kos, offers brilliant playing. His participation and sensitive approach in performing works, especially in double concerts, are truly creative. The play of violinist Karel Untermuller is known for its refined technique in terms of intonation and its serious expression, but never hiding its tasteful and ear-pleasing effect. We seldom meet up with such a unique chamber discourse of the contrabass as with Tomas Vybiral. His technique is perfect, and in terms of rendering phrases, it completely organically "falls into" an overall sound image. Even in his case, musical versatility and understanding are clearly displayed, as are the sensitive arrangements and reconstructions of selected compositions. He is also a noteworthy soloist, and his duet creations with inventive violin-cellist, Tomas Strasil, are especially pleasing.

Both of these groups are able to raise a fundamental page of a musical work, mainly its melodic qualities. They understand the sense for rendering a melody, and they present it as an expression of creative temperament and enflamed artistic passion. Moreover, they can literally play with the nuances of the musical message, including the colorfulness of the instrumentation. Each single player of both ensembles perfectly intonates, feels precisely and venerates the rhythmic bridge of interplay. Each fits together, either in and of himself, or within the total spectrum of the collective. What mostly captures the audience’s attention are the gently individualized differentiation of every line – exact and defined entrances, beautifully formed, and flowing phrases, as well as the closely watched conclusion, Ritardando and Agogico in general.

This cooperation results in exemplary, typical and compact chamber interplay. Here, performers of a young generation have their chance to perform, and their advantage in numbers is truly felt. This is without a doubt why the expression of SKO and ME is dynamic, energetic, and simply “full of juice”. All performers play with visible enjoyment and interest, but in an unaffected manner. They know how to enjoy the feeling of playing and to effectively lend this feeling to the listeners, providing them with music refined to the last detail. The sophistication of their interpretation reflects the taste of today’s demanding listener. Both of these ensembles – SKO and ME – are today found at the “top” of chamber musical interpretation in the Czech Republic, as are the values of its repertoire. They therefore deserve full support in realizing their concert and recording activity.
PhDr.Julius Hůlek

Concert in Season of Advent – 13. 12. 2005, Rudolfinum - Suk Hall

The advent has always been considered among other things to be a period of reflection and meditative contemplation, and also a time of interesting cultural experiences, which of course may not be related to the advent or Christmas theme. This is what the "advent concert” by the Suk Chamber Orchestra provided us on December13th. It offered serious – although in terms of mood also lightened – works of its kind. First was the Suite for Strings “From Holberg’s Time” one of the examples of the music of Edvard Hagerup Grieg. The following concertante work was the Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra in D Minor by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. The second part of the program featured the Serenade for Strings in C Major, op. 40 by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky.

The ensemble’s protagonist, violinist Martin Kos, wonderfully fulfilled what Mendelssohn-Bartholdy “embodied” in his Concerto in D Minor, an earlier, but in terms of artistic value, a no less serious counterpart of the violin Concerto in E Minor The expression of this humble, but uncommonly effective multifaceted and confident interpretation is careful, above matters, exact in terms of intonation and rhythm, truly virtuoso, but unaffected in phrasing. He effectively “directs” joy to listen and follow it – from the first violin not spectacularly. Radost ho poslouchat i sledovat – od prvních houslí totiž neokázale, ale i účinně „diriguje“ The Suk orchestra players have had luck in constructing its repertoire. Among others, its specialties include a selection of literature of the serenade type, reminiscent of not only the most beloved, but also those most valuable works. The proof may be the original Grieg Suite, whose performance brought out mainly the creation of the mood of this work. And what can one say about the conclusion featuring Tchaikovsky? That was not only a proper, but in content and delivery a true apex of the evening – stressing the glowing and tasteful attaining of the melodic side and instrumental color, which reflects mainly the technically mature level and unique nuances of chamber play in terms of phrasing, that the Suk Chamber Orchestra has undisputedly proven capable of over the 32 years of its existence.
PhDr.Julius Hůlek

The International Prague Spring festival - May 2005, Rudolfinum - Dvorak Hall

Concert of the Suk Chamber Orchestra, May 29th

The Festival Program of the Suk Chamber Orchestra was both traditional and modern. The masterpieces of the two doyens of Czech music were framed by famous works of Josef Suk, full of emotion and depth. The whole evening was enhanced by the high technical professionalism of the group, by perfect intonation and rhythm. The musicians could thus fully concentrate on the interpretation of the unique message of the music.

The "Meditation on the old Bohemian choral "St.Wenceslas", op.35/a, is at first crystal clear, fragile, lyrical and truly meditative. Yet in the culmination point between the second and third movement the dramatic expression prevailed. The final part enclosed the whole work by the mood and expression of the introductory part, which in fact prevailed in the whole work.

There followed a Concerto for Two Harps and Strings by Jan F.Fisher (1997), with Jana Boušková and Kateřina Englichová as soloists. To start with the string orchestra seems to play the leading part, but very soon the initiative was taken over by the harps and for the remaining parts the two solo instruments and the orchestra played in healthy symbiosis. The structure of the composition and the performance of the orchestra evoked successfully a Concerto Grosso atmosphere. František Vajnar was engaged as conductor (though otherwise the Suk orchestra plays without a conductor). Thanks to him and the excellent soloists a compact and well balanced rendition of Fisher's concerto was presented. The ovations of the public were so great that the soloists had to offer an encore, a short, brilliant work by the same composer. Then followed Otmar Macha´s (born 1922) "Homage to Josef Suk", written in 1997-8, which was also heartily applauded. Here the main credit goes to the concert master Martin Kos, whose breadth of musicality and invention was he equally divided between his own playing and the leadership of the orchestra. Mácha´s "Homage to Suk" has indeed Suk´s spirit (yet without any ecleticism). Already in the first movement the widely spread song of solo violins culminating in the third movement was truly rendered by M. Kos with perfect technique and nobility.

The final part of the concert was the "crown jewel" of the Suk Orchestra's repertoire - The E-flat major Serenade by Josef Suk, Op.6. In this particular piece of music the perfection of performance was duly appreciated, in its "pastel colors", lyrical emotion and sensitivity. I appreciated more than at other occasions the gently individualized shading of the different movements with their incredible dynamic grading. The success of the Suk orchestra earned the musicians three encores-- two works by Dvořak, one by Janaček.

The impact of the whole evening can be well characterized by a statement I overheard when leaving the Rudolfinum: "My God, was that beautiful"!
PhDr.Julius Hůlek

Concert of the Suk Chamber Orchestra and Mladota Ensemble – November 13th 2004, Rudolfinum - Suk Hall

A joint November gala-concert of two chamber groups - the Suk Chamber Orchestra, celebrating the 30th anniversary of its existence, and the Mladota Ensemble, a sextet which originated as an offspring of the above-mentioned one - was conveniently held in the Suk Hall of the Rudolfinum.
The Suk Orchestra members plunged into their task with enormous vitality.
It almost seemed as if the space of the hall was unable to hold the magnitude of their sonority and enthusiasm.
For the beginning they chose a four-movement Partita in d minor by a Czech composer from the period between Baroque and Classicism, Frantisek Ignac Tuma.
They played it neatly, with knowledge and enthusiasm already noted. In addition here we could list further interpretive qualities which they further developed and augmented in items of the program that followed: the sound of the Partita was enriched by the impressive cello in the third movement (Arietta). In his series of Partitas, Tuma always entrusted the solo part to another instrument. Coincidentally, the solo viola was heard several times in the course of the evening, in the always faultless and interesting performance of Karel Untermüller.
The Concerto in G major for piano and strings by F. J. Haydn (Hob.XVIII.4), written in a conventional genre, rightfully attracted attention, owing to the performance of the solo part (Stepan Kos). Also satisfactory was the rich orchestra accompaniment, played with solid collective teamwork.
A partial climax of the program before the break was the world premiere of the Sextetto for two violins, viola, cello, double bass and piano by the contemporary composer Zdenek Lukas (1928), perfectly performed by The Mladota Ensemble (Martin.Kos, Dana Klimánková - Truplová - violins, Karel Untermüller- viola, Tomaš Strašil-cello, Tomáš Vabíral-double bass, Štěpán Kos- piano). Lukas composed his two-movement Sextet this year specially for the Mladota Ensemble, knowing perfectly the capacities of the players, which he exploited in the formation and development of expressive melodies, and at the same time inclining (even harmonically) towards a traditional language of expression. The whole he solved not by means of sharp contrast, but by a fluent continuity in both movements.
The second half of the concert began with a Sextet in F-sharp minor, op 8, for the same chamber ensemble by William Sterndale Bennett, an English romantic, a younger contemporary of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Schumann. He composed this work in 1846, when he was 20. The influence of his contemporaries is clearly visible but by far not eclectic. Each movement was composed as if an ”uninterrupted” with a unque intensive gradation, which sounded convincingly thanks to the performing qualities of the Mladota Ensemble.
The closing Sextet in A major for Strings, op. 48, by Anton Dvorak sounded again in its orchestral shape. The Suk Orchestra artists showed the broad variety of their interpretative art, they lived the composition through (not only outwardly) and they distinctly made every movement individual. They performed the art of the unconscious (this applies to the whole evening), emerging by means of the impressive starts, beautifully composed and fluent phrases, and carefully executed closings.
The concert, lasting almost three hours, introduced a team of individualists perfectly equipped technically to produce an ideal chamber body.
PhD.Julius Hulek, Musical Review XI. - XII. 2004
Translation by Susan Kagan Ph.D.

Debut of a new ensemble at Červený Hrádek

In the framework of the project poetically named Musical Jewels at Cervený Hradek that began last year with the successful performance of Jiri Stivin, another concert was held on 6th September 2003 again an extraordinary one.
This time the Knight Hall hosted several outstanding musicians. However, the name of the six-chamber artists - The Mladota Ensemble - was unknown to most of us. The name has been freshly lent to the interpreters by the owner of the castle, baroness Henriette Mladota, whose presence, together with an introductory speech by the mayor of the town of Sedlcany, Mr. Jiri Burian, rendered the evening not only a festive atmosphere, but also one that was sociably attractive.
How did these six musicians come together? Very simple: They are current or former members of the Suk Chamber Orchestra, performing every year at Red Castle on the occasion of the Suk Festival at Sedlcany. They were invited by Josef Suk to collaborate on a new recording. And as they understood each other both humanly and artistically they started performing regularly as a group. Well, for that reason one has to have a registered name...
For their first official performance the Mladota Ensemble - consisting of violinists Martin Kos and Dana Klimánková-Truplová, violist Karel Untermüller, cellist Tomáš Strašil, double bass-player Tomáš Vybíral and pianist Štěpán Kos - chose the works where varied instrumental configurations could be introduced to the audience. Smetana´s Duo No.2 in G Minor for violin and the piano "From my homeland", op. 74 (B. 148) and Schubert's Quintet in A Major for piano, violin, viola, cello, and double bass, D 667 ("The Trout"), Dvorak's Quintet in G Major, Op.77 with double bass, and Rossini´s masterly Duo for cello and double bass.
All highly demanding works for interpretation, which gave the orchestra the opportunity to show not only its capability of uniform artistic expression but also its sense for detailed filigree. This could be seen especially in both quintets, containing more elaborate and demanding instrumental parts, where the ensemble gained attention with its perfect teamwork and clearness of individual voices, intentional build-up of the whole based on the most subtle details of every phrase, dynamic and expressive plasticity which gave the performance an air of euphoria, charm and even nostalgia. All that framed with free and cheerful, spontaneous musicianship rendered the Mladota Ensemble artistic credibility and the deserved thundering applause of the audience whose ovations were never ending. Together with the intimacy of the tastefully furnished mansion hall saturated with the rich history of the noble Mladota family, and with the good smell of freshly restored wood facing, this evening engraved itself into minds and hearts of all people who stepped out of their weekend routines and came to Red Castle on the first Saturday of September 2003.
Hana Jarolímková, Musical Review/2003

The "75" Concerto or In honour of Leos Janacek and Zdenek Lukas

Especially in summer the chamber orchestras are known as not very hard working on their programme offer. Even the best of small chamber bodies usually like better repeat the most popular pieces of their well-tested musical repertoir / Mozart, some of the romantic serenades and Vivaldi, of course/ ad nauseam.
All this seems to be much easier than an attempt to connect a pleasant well-tried musical piece with some new experience.
The uncommon dramaturgy that Suk´s Chamber Orchestra has presented at the break of spring and summer this year was a real pleasure. It was a special festival called The Prague Musical Treasures and it took thirteen days. Within this time we could také part in five topically accomplished musical evenings and one matinée. All these concertos presented not only the very famous musical miniatures by Mozart and Vivaldi but we could listen also some other, less known pieces of a German romantic period. Last but not least there was presented the temporary music too.
The most vigorous activity, the very different one to compare it to other quite boring , trite pieces, was given in the Martinu Hall, 21st of June/ such a called The "75" Concerto. The number reminds about both the anniversaries - the birth of Zdenek Lukas and the death of Leos Janacek 75 years ago.
This concerto presented the early Suite for the strings by L. Janacek and three /!/ compositions of the Z.Luka´s workshop all together. By the way all the three pieces seemed to be strikingly related to that Janacek´s work…
Suk Chamber Orchestra presented the Suite in a very interesting and unusual way. Thanks to the detailed accentation and rather slow beat this well-known music could emanate definitely deeper colours and stronger inner fight /the viola contra part in Adagio, the sound of the chorus in the second Adagio/. Regarding the minimum of the casting players /13 only/ I was very interested in Presto, that use to be very exerted in its sound. But it sounded very fully in its marginal parts even if we realized how small the orchestra was.
Suk´s Orchestra gasped all the Luka´s compositions with a masterful contrive. An audience could feel that this kind of music was one of its repertoir basics. We know that Suk´s Chamber Orchestra use to be very successful in many countries all over the world - in the South America etc. But anyone who regurally follows the Lukas´orchestra and its concerto activities is definitely not surprised. It is a music that anyone can recognize just after the first few beat times. It always starts from a well-tried musical idea and than it goes thoroughly and entitely on and on. It sounds like to be born in one whole and trait although we could sometimes feel it rather strange and subtile in this hectic 21st century.
So during that evening The Lukas´Canties were presented. Their consonant, smooth second part was based on its charming and continuous, uninterrupted stream, on the very clear simple points and despite this it was exciting. The two Lukas´compositions sounded to be made just for this kind of orchestra. The first was The Double Concerto for the violin, double bass and strings written in 1999 and dedicated to both the violin master Josef Suk and Tomas Vybiral, nowadays a very peculiar and mature personality among the double bass players. The second composition was Concertino Dedicato for the violin and orchestra.
In this case Martin Kos took up the Suk´s part. He is an inventive player who can feel music in its spirit and very soft details. He played together with an experienced, full of the disposal and brilliant Tomas Vybiral. The audience could hear what may such dedications mean in practice.
Both the creations not only fully disclosed their moving musical charm but thanks to the self-confidence and the honest rehearsal they were able to present some splendid, relieved music. Probably the strongest feeling of this we could taste by listening of The Lukas´ Doubleconcerto.
Miloš Pokora, Musical Review No. 8

Musical Jewels fourth time round

The Suk Chamber Orchestra performed the 4th cycle of Musical Gems at the Prague Castle within its historical settings from 8 to 28 June 2000. The Orchestra featured in all but one of the seven programmes (featuring the Martinů Quartet with Josef Suk), five of which were conducted by Gudni A. Emilsson and one by a guest from Japan, Sakae Sakakibara. Emilsson's engagement had a favourable impact on the programme selection: he carefully opted for a share of contemporary composers (including "Recollections" by a young Czech composer Martin Hybler and the Double Concerto for Violin and Double Bass by Zdeněk Lukáš) but he was also bold enough to present composers and pieces of music virtually unknown in this country, such as the Czech Dances as Folk Tunes by Carl Nielsen (1865-1931), the "La Folia" Variations for Violoncello and String Orchestra by French composer Marin Marais (1656-1728), the Capriol Suite by the prematurely-deceased Peter Warlock of England (1894-1930) and the Suite in A flat Major by the Swiss Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957). The rest of the programme, consisting of long-established pieces (by Bach, Haydn, Debussy, Bartók, Barber, Dvořák et al.), included Mahler's adaptation of the "Death and the Maiden" Quartet by Schubert, the "Rakastava" Suite by Sibelius and Elgar´s Serenade.
As far as invited artists are concerned, the organisers were also successful in avoiding conventionality, turning to Japan for the conductor, Sakae Sakakibara, who included a contemporary Japanese opus in his concert (the String Serenade by Hirochi Hara), and presenting the violinist Kanako Ito and pianist Emiko Imagawa; they also invited American pianist Susan Kagan, and a violinist of Lebanese background, Ara Malikian (he was finally kept from participating as he had to undergo an operation; his part had to be played by Jan Talich, who was excellent). Josef Suk was the prominent Czech performer; he played the Double Concerto by Lukáš together with Tomáš Vybíral, an excellent contrabassist. A gem of the cycle was the performance of harpist Kateřina Englichová. Tomáš Strašil, a promising violoncellist,appeared again in the variations by Marais. The orchestra musicians also participated: Martin Kos, Hana Hašplová and Karel Untermüller enjoyed playing with Jan Talich at the concert of famous double string concertos.
I regret to have been present at only two of the seven concerts. The first one was to take place in the Rothmayer Hall on 24 June, but the Castle Administration decided to relocate it to the Spanish Hall. The Greek Dances by Skalkottas, which opened the evening, is not unknown to us; it is appreciated for its ingeniously worked out, highly-stylised folk inspiration, though not novel in sound or form. The two performances of Kateřina Englichová were outstanding; she played the concerti Opp. 3 and 6 by Handel with a feel for the arrangement, her instrument filling the hall with a surprisingly full sound - except for the subito transitions from forte to pianissimo, when the sound was, as it were, fading for a moment inside the hall. On the other hand, the Dances by Debussy were presented by this soloist and the orchestra as a sweet, pleasantly-rippling flow of music. The night had its splendid close in the Romanian Dances by Bartók.
The concert on 28 June (in the Spanish Hall again, this time as arranged, and played to a capacity audience) mirrored almost exactly the Suk Chamber Orchestra´s Prague Spring programme (28 May); only the Organ Concerto by Poulenc was omitted. Listening to the Capriol Suite by Warlock, I appreciated the original invention and regretted that the gifted composer decided to leave this world when he was only 36. The Double Concerto by Lukáš, with Suk and Vybíral repeating their performance, which was able to 'mature' by then, confirmed again the skill of Zdeněk Lukáš in composing a score that would appeal to the audience without being populist. The two concerts confirmed yet another point: a conductor must be present at performances of programmes such as this. Emilsson assumes a welcome matter-of-fact approach to his task - he does not make a show of his conducting gestures, but rather imprints his idea of the interpretation upon the ensemble.
The cycle that became part of the project Musical Gems from Prague through Europe to the World 2000-2005, fulfilled its mission in the aftermath of the Prague Spring Festival. It proved both refreshing and attractive, offering better artistic value than guests to Prague can experience during summer "tourist" programmes in some churches in the old city.
Petar Zapletal, Hudební rozhledy No. 8, August 2000

International Music Festival Prague Spring - May 2000, Rudolfinum - Dvorak Hall

"...the premiere of Zdeněk Lukáš's Double Concerto for violin and double-bass, which was dedicated to the soloists (Josef Suk, violin and Tomas Vybíral, double-bass) allowed the Orchestra to extend its list of first performances, and the composer's brilliant compositional conception linking instruments of such diverse sonority, was realised by virtue of its sensitive accompaniment. The concert was conducted by G. A. Emilsson (Iceland)..." Petar Zapletal, Hudební rozhledy No. 8, August 2000

Music Festival "Janacek's May" - June 1999, Ostrava

"...Suk's Serenade in E flat major, Op. 6 is played by numerous celebrated orchestras. Yet it was not until the performance by this chamber group that hitherto latent beauties of the score were illuminated..."

International Music Festival Prague Spring - May 1999, Rudolfinum - Dvorak Hall

"...the programme of the Suk Chamber Orchestra concert was exclusively dedicated to Czech music (Macha, Dvořák, Vanhal and Suk). The Orchestra brought to light its expressive, colourful interpretative range and inspired the listeners with its reading of these works. The whole evening was a demonstration of the Czech tradition, which the Orchestra will undoubtedlycarry forward into the next millenium..."

TUROK´S CHOICE - The Insider´s Review of New Classical Recordings, November 1998

"Mozart´s early Piano Concertos Nos. 8 and 9 (K 246 and K 271) and Rondo (K 386) receive warmly satisfying readings from Susan Kagan (DICD 920517). The Suk Chamber Orchestra´s lovely accompaniment is beautifully integrated with the solo playing.

Prof. Jaroslav Přikryl about SCO

The Suk Chamber Orchestra spans the whole gamut of Czech musical performing art, with its own special ideals, formed by the combination of several, seemingly mutually-conflicting emphases. What gives this ensemble its specific flavour is the fact that it is steeped in the rapidly-emerging Czech musical culture of the nineteenth century. This period is most strongly represented by the names of Bedřich Smetana and Antonín Dvořák, but also by a number of younger, talented men who were entering the scene at this time - mostly the products of Dvořák's masterclasses at the Prague Conservatoire. Their contribution also had a major impact on the character and shape of Czech music - in respect of both compositional style and interpretation. Herein lies one of the most distinctive values assocated with the work of Josef Suk within the history of the Czech interpretative school: the emergence of the legendary Bohemian Quartet, at whose second violinist's desk the renowned composer Josef Suk occupied a permanent place.
The rise of the Suk Chamber Orchestra has attracted a surfeit of excellent young musicians, who, initially without a formal name, were united in a bid to prove not only deserving of initial attention but also, subsequently, of a permanent place in the world, through the outstanding quality of their output. In 1981,the violinist Josef Suk (great-grand-son of Dvořák and grand-son of Suk) became artistic director of the Orchestra.
It then came regroup under the banner of the elder Josef Suk's name; and, concurrently, his youthful (if conservative) work of genius, the E-flat Major Serenade for strings, Op. 6, assumed a cult-like status within the historically and stylistically variegated repertory of the Suk Chamber Orchestra. This fact has not changed even after Josef Suk´s decision to relinquish the position of artistic leader in 2000.
Naturally, not even chamber ensembles of the highest calibre are able to live merely on the beauty of the traditions by which they are graced. Rather, they need to create new, viable perspectives in harmony with the realities and practices of contemporary times. This the SKO is able to achieve, thanks to a combination of finely-focussed management and carefully-planned programme-building, with its repertoire ranging back all the way to the baroque literature of proven value, looking out for works by the Czech masters of the turn of the eighteenth century and from the preclassical period, and also embracing music from the height of classicism. Pride of place goes to Mozart - so well-loved by Czech musicians. The repertoire of course also embraces a wealth of masterpieces from the twentieth century, by Schoenberg and beyond, through Bartók and Stravinsky, to Martinů and others, including the oustanding living Czech composer Zdeněk Lukáš.
The SKO takes it for granted that its most important mission is that of creating an interpretative ideal leading to performances of captivating vivacity. In no way does it renounce the profound gains in knowledge on matters of historical style, principally associated with the authenticity movement in baroque, preclassical and classical music. The SKO simply aims to achieve vital performances, shaping the music. The guiding principle in their choice of repertoire is sheer quality of inspiration, coupled with the fullest possible information - borne out in precision in performance, with meticulous work on every single phrase, on the articulation of each slur or grouping of notes. Such ideals underpin the way of life and work of the SKO, and it is this tradition that continues to inform its perspective and vision for the future, allied to its thorough knowledge of interpretative practices and styles, which is of course an essential prerequisite for the fulfilment of the Orchestra's mission. Above all, the SKO is acutely conscious of the perceptive abilities of today's discriminating listener, who, whilst admiring technical perfection, is, nonetheless, in possession of a heart and a soul that crave emotional experiences, and who is well able to enjoy such experiences to the full.
Author: Jaroslav Přikryl

Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, 16. 10. 1997

" ... In Dvořák´s Serenade, the full measure of the sublimeness of Czech string music sprung forth, and, through the ensemble´s interpretation, ravished the public..."

Hana Jarolímková - Musical Review, No. 8, 1997

" …Janáček´s work was truly well performed by the Orchestra, and proved both its executional and artistic qualities beyound doubt… "

Slovo, 4. 7. 1997

" …in the performances of this Orchestra nothing is left to chance. Perfect ensemble, precise playing on the part of each musician, but also an indispensable – for chamber music – cultivated overall sound – these are amongst the obvious virtues of the Suk Chamber Orchestra..." Petar Zapletal

Musical Jewels Have to be Properly Looked After

When a few years ago the idea was first put forward of enriching the early summer concert season with appearances by the Suk Chamber Orchestra and smaller instrumental formations in the attractive setting of Prague Castle, a suitable name had to be found. The name had to embody the highly exacting criteria that informed the programming, and reflect the high calibre of the whole project. The choice of name is an eloquent one: "Musical Gems at Prague Castle." And since the audience is to a large extent international, in a sense these gems could be said to be on a pilgrimage, from Prague via Europe, to the whole world. The Festival, which is now in its fifth year, fills the interval between the Prague Spring and the summer concert season. It consists of a series of early-evening concerts, which do not quite span the duration of a full evening's programme; and it features distinguished guest artists from abroad as well as homegrown soloists.
The programmes are not entirely conventional, and they are not compiled in a routine manner. Mozart is strongly represented, but also, for instance, the Concertino for Flute and Harp by the British composer Stephen Dodgson was given its world premiere. Equally stimulating proved the juxtaposition of Mozart's quintet for flute and strings (in fact a transcription of his most extended piano sonata for four hands, K. 521 in C Major, by the American flautist Robert Stallman, who was also the protagonist in the world premiere performance) with Smetana's String Quartet No. 1 in E Minor, "From My Life." Stallman's transcription is somewhat controversial, transforming the work as it does into a concertante composition, with the flute assigned a dominant role. Smetana's genuinely "chamber" work left a better impression, both as a composition and in its realization by the Martinů Quartet.
As well as featuring established artists, "Musical Gems at Prague Castle" also has a policy of opening its doors to young instrumentalists of outstanding promise whose concert activities to date have justified expectations. As a case in point, the harpist Kateřina Englichová is especially compelling. She impressed me with her assurance and her mastery of the instrument. Listening to her leaves one with the feeling that playing the harp is not at all difficult-a deceptive impression, which nonetheless arises when one encounters someone in full command of her art. The young violinist Dana Klimánková may unreservedly be hailed as holding great promise. Her playing bespeaks of both excellent training and a fine aesthetic sensibility, manifested in her beauty of tone throughout her solo contribution and not merely in cantabile passages. Thus, Mozart's Violin Concerto in A Major, K. 219, was a gem indeed-not only as a composition but also as an interpretive achievement.
The Suk Chamber Orchestra is nowadays able to draw on a pool of instrumentalists of truly outstanding quality. This was borne out by the sonorous as well as musically excellent performances of such demanding works as the Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe in D Minor (with Jan Adamus, oboe, and Martin Kos-the leader of the Suk Orchestra-violin) and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 by J. S. Bach. Tonal homogeneity, agogic flexibility, and technical virtuosity-these were the qualities that characterized the performances within the cycle "Musical Gems at Prague Castle" this year, and the solo parts in the Brandenburg Concerto were played with those key attributes by members of the viola section of the Suk Chamber Orchestra, namely Karel Untermüller and Filip Kimel.
The peak of this year's Festival was the final concert in the Spanish Hall. The excellent and spontaneous Wilhelm F. Walz stood before the orchestra, conducting with deep understanding and splendid dynamism the opening Suk Serenade in E-flat, Op. 6, and the concluding Mozart Symphony in A Major, K. 201, in which the orchestra was expanded by the addition of wind instruments. The soloists were splendid. Marina Ulewicz (from Germany) was able to command attention throughout Mozart's arias "Bella mia fiamma" and the gentler "Oh Barbaro" (from the opera Il re Pastore.) The second soloist was the admirable Susan Kagan in Mozart's Piano Concerto in F Major, K. 413. She deserved a better instrument, but gave a commendable performance nonetheless.
This year's "Musical Gems at Prague Castle" Festival has drawn to a close, and it is my belief that this ambitious-in the best sense of the word-project needs to be reformed. It is probably necessary to consider what to preserve and what to reshape in coming years; for I believe that it certainly warrants-and richly deserves-the attention of prospective sponsors able to support its further growth.
Author: Prof. Jaroslav Přikryl