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Outside the Czech Republic, Viktor Kalabis (1923-2006) is probably best known as the husband of the late, great harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková (1927-2017). Yet he was a marvellous composer in his own right, with a catalogue that includes five symphonies, 10 concertos – two for piano – seven quartets, and an abundance of chamber and vocal music. Arguably he was the greatest Czech composer since Martinů, his success all more remarkable given that he obstinately refused to join the Communist Party. Ivo Kahánek’s initiative to record Kalabis’ complete solo piano pieces should be welcomed unreservedly.

The nine works, all recorded in Prague’s Martinů Hall during 2016-8, provide a very detailed overview of Kalabis’ range and development. Three sonatas fill disc one, the first written in a robust postwar neo-Stravinskyan style, its successor taking the form of a gentler, Bachian diptych. The Third (1982) is again in two movements, at times hauntingly severe, at times volcanic. The works on the second disc are generally lighter in tone, intended either for teaching (Accents, 1967), entertainment (Three Polkas, 1979) or test pieces (Two Toccatas and Allegro impetuoso, both 1999); Entrata, Aria e Toccata (1975) and 4 Enigmas for Graham (1989), were gifts. Kahánek plays all of them with great authority and commendable virtuosity, relishing the near-orchestral colours of the piano writing (occasionally reminiscent of Messiaen) with its variety of moods and textures. Supraphon’s sound is very good, catching every nuance.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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