Supraphon's recordings of the music of Miroslav Kabelac (1908-1979) seem to have faded from the catalogue, apart from the two works presented here. That is indeed a pity, it seems, for these are rather marvelous works that deserve a wide circulation. The two works exhibit Kabelac's stylistic development with the Hamlet Improvisation picking up at least aspects of avant-garde techniques of the time. But The Mystery of Time, however, is a tonal, darkly colored passacaglia in a language somewhat reminiscent, perhaps, of Sibelius and Suk. It starts out with faint wisps of a theme and dark murmurs which gradually solidifies before taking on a sharp rhythmic character which then gradually increases in vehemence to a painful, frantic howling protest in the brass before reaching a powerful climax at around thirteen minutes in. Desperation conflicts with heroicism before the second turbulent climax gives way to a serene coda with a beautiful, solemn solo violin theme. Overall, this is a magnificent, haunting work that deserves at least the occasional airing.
The Hamlet Improvisation from ten years later is a tougher nut, influenced, perhaps, by Messiaen. It is a work of kaleidoscopic colors and figures, but always somewhat chilly and desolate where, it seems, all attempts at establishing a musical line ends in fragmentation and disorientation. But towards the end it really shows Kabelac's formal ingenuity in gathering up the disparate threads into a cogent musical whole. Again, this is far from easy listening - it is not a serial work, but the effect is akin to experimental contemporary music - but immensely satisfying nonetheless.
Turning to Jan Hanus (1915-2004) we encounter a more conservative musical voice, but one that is hardly less satisfying, at least if the Symphony Concertante here is representative (the release devoted exclusively to Hanus later in the series suggests that it isn't quite so). Writing effectively for organ and orchestra is definitely a challenging task, but one that Hanus accomplishes as effectively - if not more so - as any other I've heard. Influences from Poulenc are audible, but so are Dvorakian string textures, some of Suk's melodic lines and perhaps even Ravel. It is not a terribly original work, but Hanus's ability to blend the organ and string sonorities with the prominent use of the harp creates hauntingly beautiful effects. Indeed, much of the virtue of this work lies in the textures and scoring where Hanus creates wonderful, coruscating and glittering nuances not quite like anything I've heard before. Structurally it doesn't quite add up, but this is nonetheless a marvelous work.
Performances are, as always with Ancerl, superb - indeed, I suspect that some of the music here might sound a little ramshackle in lesser hands, and perhaps the urgency and drive of Ancerl (and the excellent orchestral contributions) make this music sound better than it really is. Nonetheless, it is the end results that count, and in the case at hand they are certainly compelling. Sound quality is a little flat, however, mostly so in the Hanus (recorded in 1957), but not thin or tinny enough to undermine the effects. A great disc, then, and one which deserves the strongest recommendation.