KAREL HUSA (1921-2016): Symphony No. 2 “Reflections”, 3 Frescoes* , Music for Prague 1968. * - World Premiere Recording. Prague Symphony Orchestra; Tomáš Brauner.
Catalogue Number: 08X008
Reference: SU 4294-2
Description: Overshadowed, perhaps, by his fluency in adapting to become a leading composer for American wind orchestra, Husa's output of powerful works for symphony orchestra, deeply rooted in his homeland and inflected by its turbulent history, has been strangely undervalued. The superb 2nd Symphony of 1983 is compelling, dramatic and monumental - and original in both form and content. Typically of the composer, it is very tonal in an expanded sense with ample dissonance but exemplary formal procedure. The first movement's sinuous, plaintive melodies arise from a veiling cloud of quarter-tone harmonics, and lead the way into the movement's eloquent central section and its transformation into the imposing masses of chordal sonority that make up its climax. Introduced, and accompanied throughout by a rapid tattoo of percussion, the central fast movement is a frantically propulsive thrill-ride that sounds in danger of coming off the rails at any moment, so abrupt and precipitous are its twists and turns. The symphony’s dark heart, though, is the extraordinary finale, a movement of such concentration and intensity that it makes everything that preceded it seem lightweight and relaxed. It is impossible not to hear in the mounting tension of its unresolvedly clashing tectonic floes the composer’s fury at the ongoing fate of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, as it was at the time, even more vehemently expressed than in the seminal Music for Prague 1968. Eventually a plaintive flute emerges from the grinding gloom, tentatively taking flight above the shadows, leading the way into a coda uncannily similar in effect to the sublime, exhausted resignation of that of Shostakovich’s 4th. Three Frescoes, a large-scale work of quasi-symphonic scope, is the vigorous product of a young composer’s imagination, inexplicably only now receiving its first recording more than 70 years after it was written. Its rhythmic trenchancy and tough, resolutely un-romantic harmonies certainly recall Honegger, with whom the composer was studying, but its exuberantly overwrought drama and remarkable self-assurance are personal to the young Husa, and combine to make it an exhilarating listening experience. The "Præludium", after a slow, restrained introduction, functions like a symphonic allegro, with a resolute, rhythmically propulsive first subject, a contrasting second subject, a climactic development, and a quiet, mysterious coda. The "Aria" begins tranquilly and melodically - and explores its melody throughout - with a few passing shadows and a slight sense of unease, and achieves a grandiose march-like climax of immense weight and momentum in its central section before returning to calm reflection in its closing pages. The finale is in three sections, effectively introduction, fugue, and stretta. True to the extrovert nature of the work as a whole, it delineates voices and episodes of the fugue in a wealth of instrumental colour, and culminates in a raucously exuberant conclusion. Husa's most celebrated composition is resonant with a thousand years of history, viewed through the lens of protest, as the composer’s outrage at the 1968 Soviet invasion finds its full voice. After a naïve, unsuspecting introduction, increasingly threatened by gathering storm-clouds, the first movement is overtaken by a conflagration of warlike fanfares leading to a full battle scene in which a Hussite war song emerges as a symbol of resistance. The Aria is a vast funeral procession, a dirge for an entire country. An interlude for percussion alone is hushed and full of foreboding and expectant tension, released in the furious pounding propulsion of the finale, with its angular melodies and snarling fanfares. Eventually the Hussite song re-emerges in a triumphant climax of hard-won victory. This is the full orchestral transcription which the composer produced immediately after the original wind orchestra version, and the richer palette adds to the work’s sense of scale and depth. Prague Symphony Orchestra; Tomáš Brauner.