Two substantial compositions of Karel Husa
Discophage | France | 02/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This valuable Louisville First Edition CD, released in 1991, gathers two substantial compositions of Karel Husa conducted by himself, to which two smaller pieces - and Louisville commissions - by Lutoslawski and Paul Creston have been added.
Creston's Invocation and Dance dates from 1953. It is traditional in its musical language, and I hear in it echoes of Debussy, Ravel, Walton, Bernstein.... Pleasant, but not memorable.
Lutoslawski's Fanfare, written in 1986 in response to a commission to celebrate the Louisville Orchestra's 50th Anniversary, is actually scored for the full symphony orchestra and its all too short 1:15 minutes are very much a pendant to his 3rd symphony.
Husa's "Apotheosis of This Earth" has never been more topical than today. "Man's brutal possession and misuse of nature's beauty - if continued at today's reckless speed - can only lead to catastrophe. The composer hopes that the destruction of this beautiful earth can be stopped, so that the tragedy of destruction can exist only as fantasy, never to become reality". These are the explanatory notes written by the composer to accompany the composition, completed... in 1971. It was originally written for wind band and then rescored in 1973 for full orchestra, with the striking addition of a wordless (until the last movement) chorus, which is how it is performed here. It is viewed by the composer as part of a triptych which includes the famous Music for Prague 1968 and the ballet The Trojan Woman (1980), concerned with the woes of Mankind. This same, composer-conducted recording of Apotheosis has been later reissued on another First Edition CD with Music for Prague, conducted by Louisville's long-time music director Jorge Mester (Karel Husa: Music for Prague 1968; Apotheosis of this Earth).
It is programmatic and evocative music then, though not downright descriptive. The first movement starts with mysterious, slow moving, long held high notes, first monophonic and almost computer-like, with interjections by bells, xylophone and other ringing percussion instruments. In the course of its 12 and ½ minutes duration it rises to a menacing climax buttressed by the wordless chorus (imperceptibly ushered in after 6 minutes), then recedes back to its starting point. According to the composer it depicts planet earth viewed from a great distance, "a point of light in the universe". It evokes some memories of Vaughan Williams, Holst or Honegger and could be music to a Sci-Fi film - a little too much so for the demanding listerer's complete fulfilment, perhaps, but it is effective nonetheless.
With its brutal, relentless onslaught of pounding, unleashed percussion, brass interjections and wordless male then mixed chorus, the second movement represents the destruction of the planet by Mankind. A parallel can be easily drawn with the second movement of Husa's Music for Prague, depicting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Around 5 minutes into the movement the chorus' vocal line turns into screams, to which are added sounds of clapped hands (the chorus', one surmises) and one can easily imagine Mankind falling into the burning mouth of Hell. It is immensely effective and must be even more in concert.
The last movement returns to the same atmosphere as the first, but here evoking the shattered splinters of the planet. Onomatopeia can be heard from the chorus, out of which isolated voices eventually emerge, uttering the spoken words, over tersely enigmatic notes by flute and xylophone: "this... beautiful... earth".
Ever since Wagner and his Lohengrin, composers have turned their interrogations, anxieties and frustrations about the artist's (and more specifically their own) role and isolation in society into works of music. I don't think anyone of them have been very perceptive in their sociological analyses (they always self-consciously exaggerate the "Artist's" importance and influence, and today more so than ever, when nobody gives a hoot anymore) but they have produced great music, and Husa's ballet "Monodrama (Portrait of an Artist)" from 1976, inspired by James Baldwin's book "The Creative Process", adds to the long list. Its stark, bleak, brooding music seems unlikely stuff to be set to dance (but trust the choreographers!), but as absolute music, it is terrific, dramatic and effective.
The recordings were made between 1983 and 1990 and they are rendered in excellent sound. Good, informative notes.