KAREL HUSA “Music of Life” = Concerto for Violoncello and orchestra; Pastorale for String Orchestra; Scenes from “The Trojan Women” Suite for Orchestra – University of Louisville Symphony Orchestra/Paul York, cello/Kimcherie Lloyd – Ablaze Records ar-00008, 59:14 ****:
Karel Husa is unique in that he was a native of Prague, the Czech Republic who became best known as an academic at various American universities, most notably Cornell. Many a university wind ensemble player is familiar with his landmark work, Music for Prague 1968, which – in many ways – remains his best known work. And, yet, there is so much more. This wonderful new collection of some of his most important works illustrates the point that Karel Husa is a technically skilled composer of emotionally rich works that deserve to be heard more.
Additionally, this disc also exemplifies Husa’s long time affiliation with the University of Louisville and the Louisville Orchestra – a group with a decades-old recorded tradition of promoting new music. This collection opens in stunning fashion with the attention-getting Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra. Structurally, this is a very unique work consisting of five very dramatic and somewhat symbolic movements. Originally written for the USC School of Music Symphony, it was premiered in 1989 with the great Lynn Harrell. The central Anecdote was not written for that performance and was added just a year later. Musically, there is range of emotion as well as a range of technical demands placed on the soloist certainly implicit in the movement titles. There is a tension throughout. The fourth movement, Remembrance, is elegiac and mournful in places and the concluding Hymn carries the work to a somewhat stark conclusion featuring some nearly frantic interplay between the solo cello and the brass. The Concerto should be a solid addition to the twentieth century repertoire and is played wonderfully here by Paul York, a cello professor and performer at the University of Louisville.
Husa’s Pastorale for String Orchestra is, in many ways, quite a different matter. This is a very short melodic work with just a modicum of harmonic intrigue and only somewhat technically demanding. This work actually represents Husa the teacher quite well. Written for the American String Teachers’ Association national conference in 1980, this is intended to be a plaintive, accessible work that a better high school ensemble could perform. It serves that purpose well and, in many ways, does not sound like “typical” Husa but is a very pleasant work.
The composer wrote the ballet The Trojan Women for the opening of the new facility at the University of Louisville School of Music in 1981. Husa used the classic Greek legend of the pillage of Troy by the Athenians as his inspiration and story line. A tragic tale, wherein the wives and mothers of the fallen are left to bury their loved ones and be led off into slavery, Husa also found personal thematic connection to the destruction of a Czech village by the Nazis and the music is characteristically brusque, tinged with punctuating brass lines and rattling percussion amid a tonal but violent harmonic background. In five movements plus an Epilogue, the suite – written from the ballet after its premiere – carries the terror and pathos of the storyline well. The horror of the siege is depicted well over the first three sections before the work dissolves into the Lament of Hecuba and the Departure from the Burning Troy. This is a very compelling work evocative of the tone poems of Strauss and the Threnody of Penderecki in its impact. I had not heard this piece before but I found it very interesting and attention-getting.
The University of Louisville Symphony under Kimcherie Lloyd performs very well and Ablaze Records is to be commended again for bringing unusual new repertory to the fore in acoustically fine recordings. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys modern – but accessible – orchestral music played very well!
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