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Czech composer Vitězslav Novák (1870-1949) is best remembered for his marvellous symphonic poem In the Tatra Mountains, of which there are several recordings currently available. His presence elsewhere in the catalogue is quite healthy, too, ranging from songs, piano and chamber music – particularly the Piano Trio – to full orchestral works.

Composed in 1895, Novák’s Piano Concerto in E minor follows a single Lisztian span of just under half an hour. The usual three movements of a Classical concerto are nonetheless discernible, opening with a somewhat expansive Allegro energico that dovetails into a brief Andante con sentimento before picking up the pace again for the concluding Allegro giusto.

Novák originally planned to premiere the concerto himself, but rapidly became dissatisfied with the perceived stylistic shift from its Lisztian opening to the influence of Dvoˇrák (his former teacher) in the finale. He suppressed the score for 20 years until his sister-in-law eventually premiered it. Yet he need not have worried: the structure may be a little loose in places, but its melodic invention and warmth of expression are rather appealing. Jan Bartoš and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra clearly believe in the music’s quality and Jakub Hruša is a committed advocate of the composer, as his booklet note affirms. Supraphon’s sound is splendid.

Bartoš illustrates a more sensitive and intimate side to his playing in the brief suite At Dusk, composed the following year. Although a mere 10 minutes in length, this set of four exquisite, interlinked tone pictures reveals marked developments in Novák’s creative thinking. Its distilled clarity marks the high point of the programme, starkly contrasted with the sprawling symphonic poem that follows.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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