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Novak: Piano Music


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Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Sonata Eroica, Op. 24
  2. Songs of Winter Nights, Op. 30
  3. Slovak Suite, Op. 32
  4. Dymak, (Con Fuoco)

Product Description

ALTO 1113; ALTO - Inghilterra; Classica da camera Piano

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x9e261420) out of 5 stars 1 review
HASH(0x9e082c6c) out of 5 stars 2.5 – Stellar Performances of Very Insipid Late Romantic Piano Music 9 Feb. 2016
By Hexameron - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Vitezslav Novak (1870-1949) was a student of Dvorak and studied violin at the Prague Conservatory. Like other Czech nationalists, a great deal of his music incorporates Slovakian folk song. I listened to this recording with high hopes, having been enamored with Novak’s mighty Violin Sonata in D minor, his Piano Trio No. 2, and the Piano Quartet, all powerful works full of drama and fury. I regret to say that his piano music is boring by comparison. It is not the fault of the performer, Radoslav Kvapil, who plays marvelously. Kvapil is a champion of the Czech piano literature and his performances here are vigorous and sincere. No, it is the music content itself that falls short. I think Novak was ill-equipped to write effectively for solo piano; he was much better with chamber textures.

Novak’s most ambitious piano work is the Sonata Eroica (1900), a piece that is remarked upon favorably in William Newman’s “Sonata Since Beethoven,” but left me totally unmoved. I expected a stentorian and dramatic tour-de-force on par with Novak’s own turbulent Violin Sonata. What I got was uninspired, melodically anemic, and not at all “heroic.” The mood of the first movement is at best searching and poetic, sometimes triumphant, but nothing like the typical spleen and heaven-storming grandeur of Novak’s Violin Sonata and Piano Trio No. 2. The second movement is sparkling and bright with a Slovak theme of exotic harmonic minor color. Very little is memorable or worth hearing again. I am surprised how dull the thematic material is. The sonata ends with satisfying volatility and sonorous textures, but twenty minutes too late. What a disappointing work from a composer who can do better.

I wish I could say nice things about the Songs of Winter Nights (1903), but this set of pieces is mediocre. Novak’s expressive aims are admirable, but his ideas are bland, themes unmemorable, and virtually nothing sticks in the mind. “Song of a Stormy Night” is the best of the batch, agitated and passionate in the style of Liszt. “Song of a Christmas night” is serene and optimistic, indulging in twinkling trills, but devoid of melody. “Song of a Carnival Night” is innocuous and playful with a high-register jocular tune that wears out its welcome very early. There are a couple jewels from the Slovak Suite. The “Allegro strepitoso” is an animated march with spiky grace notes, which despite the Slovakian folk inflections, has an element of Spanish color to it, and a melody that resembles La Folia. “Andante con tenerezza” has shades of melancholy and a crepuscular mystical mood. The other pieces are nondescript ebullient dances and genial folk hymns.

Bottom line: Novak is a good composer and should not be judged by these piano works of negligible worth. His fiery Violin Sonata and Piano Trio No. 2 are fabulous specimens of the genre; even his Piano Quartet is quite good. Thus I am baffled by the insipidity of these piano pieces.
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