“Music of Life: Orchestral Masterworks of Karel Husa” = Cello Concerto; Pastorale for Strings; Suite for Orchestra: Scenes from the “Trojan Women” – Paul York, cello/ University of Louisville Sym. Orch./ Kimcherie Lloyd – Ablaze Records ar-00008, 59:19 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Czech composer Karel Husa is a longtime favorite of mine, and a longtime teacher here in the United States as well. His music has been received with much acclaim, even though he tends to take second rank in the minds of many. His Music for Prague: 1968 is one of the staples of the concert band repertory and an absolute masterpiece, though it is his Third String Quartet that took the Pulitzer Prize. But he has written many worthy and relatively unknown works that deserve far better, and his musical language, tonal in a modern idiom, and highly tight-knit in construction, ranges from the thick and dense to the beautifully transparent and exceedingly lyrical.
His Cello Concerto written for Lynn Harrell and the University of Southern California Symphony Orchestra is a five-movement marvel that exploits the capabilities of the cello to an extreme degree. But even here everything is done with the highest musical consideration as it relates to the flow of the piece, and nothing is done solely for the sake of demonstration purposes or mere showoff. Much of the work is chamber-like in delicacy, and when the full forces are employed the drama is considerable. Paul York, a member of the University of Louisville faculty, show himself a capable and even formidable interpreter of Husa’s muse. This piece won the Grawemeyer Award in 1993.
The Pastorale for Strings is a 1980 commission by the American String Teachers Association and is designed for a student level, but only just. The piece is lush, pseudo-romantic, and a definite product of Husa’s earlier years. Those familiar with his other more famous works will be surprised at the overt expressive nature of this music.
The Trojan Women, adapted from Euripides, was composed as part of the celebrations of the opening of the School of Music building at the University of Louisville in 1980. The ballet was presented as part of the Louisville Ballet Subscription series that year, with the Louisville Orchestra doing the honors. The music, reflective of the not-so-pleasant story, uses quarter tones, tetrachords, and some very barren modal structures that sound more modern on paper than in actual sound. Don’t get me wrong, this is not Rhapsody in Blue, but neither is it something that anyone with an interest in the composer should shy away from. Effective dramatic instincts, caustic aural commentary on some pretty tough storyline situations, and a genius for structure and its relationship to the essence of a musical line make this a work well worth your time, Husa at his finest.
The University of Louisville Orchestra is obviously well-prepared and adept at putting the composer’s intentions across, no doubt the result of a long and productive relationship that the city and its environs have had with the composer. Sound is very good and the overall experience one that can be recommended to all.
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