FIBICH: Symphony No. 2 in E-flat Major, Op. 38; At Twilight – Idyll for Orch., Op. 39; Selanka – Idyll in B-flat for Clarinet and Strings, Op. 16 – Irvin Venys, clar./ Czech Nat. Sym. Orch./ Marek Stilec – Naxos 8.573157, 63:36 (1/6/14) ****:
Prolific Czech composer Zdenek Fibich (1850-1900) had been a piano student of Ignaz Moscheles in Leipzig before he entered formal composition studies in Mannheim with Vinzenz Lachner and Zikmund Kolesovsky. The Symphony No. 2 (1893) demonstrates Fibich’s mastery of the principles of sonata-form, wrought in a musical syntax easily traceable to Schumann, Brahms, and Dvorak. The general energy and tenor of the Allegro moderato bears a family resemblance to the order of themes in the Dvorak Seventh Symphony, except Fibich clearly remains more bucolic and less firmly dramatic. Fibich always claimed that his love affair with critic Anezka Schulzova (1868-1905) bestowed “a fertility of ideas” upon him, confirming the thesis of Romain Rolland that love turns the lover into a poet. Some of the insistent rhythmic patterns may well nod to another of the Fibich passions, Richard Wagner. Intricate interior hues and colors grace the flow of ideas until the coda, which well “borrows” its motto from Schubert’s C Major “Great” Symphony.
The Adagio easily conveys the mood of a sweet nocturne, warm and expressive music that will return after a rhythmically more aggressive section in which the winds and brass enjoy dialogue reminiscent of Weber or even Lalo. A violin solo ushers in the lyrical opening tune, scored with added rapture. At various turns the tympani part has been making ominous or fateful gestures, but the idyll remains untarnished. The martial Scherzo calls our attention by means of a trumpet and pizzicato strings whose rhythm and layered energy invoke Schubert and even Bruckner. The trio extends the rusticity into a laendler or peasant dance, with a distinct drone bass. The Finale commands a definite girth, if only because Fibich wants an exposition repeat of the two major energies, aggressive and introspective, rather in the psychic manner of Schumann. Woodwinds, strings, and tympani enjoy a fertile mix ending in a triumphant chorale, but the tenor of the music never quite transcends its “academic” derivations. Despite a healthy invigorating rendition (rec. 23 October 2012) from the Czech National Orchestra and Marek Stilec – who made use of the best, authentic, uncut editions of Fibich he could muster – the Second Symphony will likely remain parenthetical to the development of the rich Czech National tradition.
The 1879 Idyll in B-flat Major for Clarinet and Orchestra basks in a bucolic inwardness, a mood that reflects the Fibich strong suit. Singular in mood, the Idyll conveys a deep nostalgia that might suffice as the musical equivalent for Thomas Gray’s “Elegy.” The chalumeau register of soloist Irvin Venys’ instrument carries a poignant affect long after the piece rounds upward to a coda with ascending flutes, rolling tympani and one plucked chord.
At Twilight (1893) proffers a clearly Wagnerian tone-picture, bearing the autobiographical stamp of recollections of crepuscular, walking excursions of Fibich and Anezka Schulzova’s family on Zofin Island in Prague. The sensuous orchestral tissue rises in the strings over a rolling tympani, to transition by way of winds, pizzicato strings, bassoon, and flute to a more flighty sensibility. The texture might recall Dvorak’s In Nature’s Realm at key moments, perhaps more ominous in its awareness of tragic love in the form of a plaintive waltz. Flute, harp, and violin figure in the paean, once more another composer’s version of Forest Murmurs. Cello and flute extend the dream on a bass pedal point, invoking a reprise of earlier materials for a grand finale, then fading in muting tones that include cymbal strokes.