FIBICH: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 = Othello, Op. 6; Zaboj, Slavoj, and Ludek, Op. 37; Toman and the Wood Nymph, Op. 49; The Tempest, Op. 46; Spring, Op. 13 – Czech National Sym. Orch./ Marek Stilec – Naxos 8.573197, 72:27 (7/1/14) ****:
The revitalization of the music of Zdenek Fibich (1850-1900) continues with this survey (rec. 13 March and 3 April 2013) of orchestral works, several of which demonstrate genuine power over the required forces. Two selections based on Shakespeare grace this program, of which the Othello Overture of 1873 – a subject Dvorak likewise addressed in his trilogy Nature, Life, and Love – presents us with a demonstration of dramatic girth and mellifluous melody. Fibich intertwines three main characters in response to the subject of the doomed Moor and his irrational and fatal jealousy: Othello, Desdemona, and Iago. There are, to be sure, hints of Wagner’s brass work from Tannhauser, and some fluent scoring for flute and harp that nod to both Mozart and Smetana. Frankly, there can little justification of this piece’s having been denied more familiarity in our concert halls.
The other moment from Shakespeare, The Tempest (1880), has several orchestral composers in thrall, not the least of whom are Sibelius and Tchaikovsky. Fibich’s literal depiction of a storm and fateful shipwreck proves the trump card – with all due respect to Wagner’s Dutchman and Liszt’s Les Preludes – that eventually yields to the happier prospects for Miranda’s vision of a “brave new world.” The winds and upper strings certainly invoke Ariel, who carries out those magical errands for Prospero. The bass clarinet and brass might invoke the rivalries between the two competing brothers. But magical string tremolos rescue us from the dire and ominous bass melodies, despite the ubiquitous storm clouds.
The 1875 symphonic poem Zaboj, Slavoj and Ludek takes its literary cue from the 1817 nationalist poem by Vaclav Hanka that – somewhat reminiscent of the later music for Alexander Nevsky – describes a successful defense of the Czech nation against the invading German hordes. Composed in rather blatant Lisztian terms, the sprawling piece does cohere quite as successfully as Othello, with a series of episodic and rhapsodic effects. Still, much in the spectacular, brassy fashion of Liszt’s Mazeppa or Vysehrad from Smetana’s Ma Vlast, a heartfelt grandeur suffuses the score, which Stilec and his Czech National Symphony execute in the grand style.
Critical consensus lauds Fibich’s third symphonic poem, Toman and the Wood Nymph (1875, as his most successful orchestral realization in the form. Like Dvorak, Fibich here takes his material from a Czech folk tale of a spurned young man, disappointed in love, who finds solace in a supernatural deity, a wood nymph who loves him until his death. Fibich utilizes a horn motif for the young man and strings for the nymph, setting the interchange as a melodious rondo. A degree of (Tristaneque) languor infiltrates the emotional tenor this work, which often assumes a martial cast. The piece works because of its tight-knit structure, captivating rhythms, and feverishly intense, transparent scoring, including some effective colors from the tympani, cymbals, and triangle.
Fibich’s pantheistic side emerges in Spring (1881), in which clarinet, horns, and harp will play a major role in conveying the idea of Nature’s power of renewal. In the course of its thirteen-minute realization, we feel the strong influence of both Smetana and Dvorak in their expression of dance and song. While the initial melodic tissues receives development and color transition, we inevitably feel the Czech doxology or hymnal capacities of Fibich as his music achieves an apotheosis. Late in the score solo flute, oboe, and strings add their distinctive glories to the color effects. This music might be construed as the Czech equivalent of a Nature mood-piece by Delius. And if that analogy works for you, you have a disc you are bound to enjoy several times over.