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GP681 - MAČEK, I.: Piano Music (Complete) / Violin Sonata (Mazzon, Filipec)
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Ivo Maček (1914–2002)
Complete Piano Music • Sonata for Violin and Piano


Among the artists who were to make their mark on the music scene in Yugoslavia during the mid-twentieth century, Ivo Maček occupies a significant place. Born in Sušak (now Croatia) on 24 March 1914, he trained at the Classical Gymnasium and also at the Music Academy in Zagreb. After graduation in 1934, he studied piano with Svetislav Stančić in Zagreb and composition with Jean Roger-Ducasse in Paris. Having taught at the Lisinki Music School in Zagreb and also holding the post of secretary at the Zagreb Opera, he quickly established himself as a pianist both in concert and in recital, giving performances across Yugoslavia and abroad—appearing with various established artists (such as the cellist Antonio Janigro and the cellist and conductor Enrico Mainardi) then, along with the cellist Mirko Dorner, winning the International Competition for Duo Performance at Vercelli in 1952. He had been the recipient of of a federal Government Award in 1948 and went on to win the Milka Trnina Award for concert performance in 1957–8, underlining his success both as performer and pedagogue.

Maček acted as a juror at numerous international piano competitions such as the Chopin in Warsaw, the Busoni in Bolzano and the J.S. Bach in Leipzig. As well as teaching piano at the Music Academy in Zagreb, he was also chairman of the departments for piano and organ during 1967–70; at the same time taking summer seminars at the Liszt Academy in Weimar. He was a regular member of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts, and won many awards such as the Vladimir Nazor Prize for lifetime achievement in 1978, the Josip Slavinsky Award for composition in 1989 and the Lovro von Matačić Award for lifetime achievement in 1992. His editorial work includes teaching editions of piano sonatas by Beethoven and a critical edition of the piano works by Josip Slavenski. He died in Zagreb on 26 May 2002.

Despite those lifelong commitments to performing, teaching and adjudicating, Maček was periodically engaged in composition—notably during the early and later years of his career—though his published output amounts to only sixteen works. The music for solo piano is collated on this disc and consists largely of early works, though not the Sonatina which was written during 1977 and consists of three short yet finely contrasted as well as judiciously balanced movements. Stylistically this music recalls the impressionist piano writing of Debussy and Ravel, both in its fluidly understated technique and the piquancy of its harmonic language.

The opening movement begins with limpid figuration, from which two subtly different and quietly animated themes can be perceived. The onward flowing nature of the music hardly necessitates development as such, though there is a brief central culmination then a coda in which matters are brought gently to rest. The central movement proves as amiable as it title suggests, the deftly syncopated main theme finding a degree of contrast in the more pensive mood of a central section that becomes momentarily ruffled before the initial equanimity is restored. The final movement brings appreciably greater energy with its capering main theme that pivots freely across the keyboard, soon building to a central section of teasing rhythmic intricacy, then the initial verve returns to see the piece through to a robustly humorous close.

Composed in 1939, the Theme and Variations is among Maček’s most inventive piano pieces—building a formally succinct though expressively wide-ranging structure through its often ingenious manipulation of the motivic components set out in the opening bars. The theme is forthright in its melodic profile and is also richly harmonized, while the eight variations that ensue are respectively thoughtful, speculative, capricious, plaintive, humorous, commanding, playful and earnest—this latter gaining in impetus as it steers the work to its rhetorical close.

Composed in 1937, the Improvisation finds Maček directing his motivic thinking along more oblique though no less cohesive lines. As its title implies, the piece is rhapsodic both in form and expression—the initially carefree tone persisting through to a demonstrative yet unforced culmination before returning to the alluring manner in which it began and with which it ends.

The Intermezzo, composed in 1935, ranks among Maček’s most poetic and appealing piano miniatures. The main theme is searching and thoughtfully harmonized, its lack of rhythmic definition the foil to the central section with its forceful initial gesture accruing unexpected intensity, before the opening theme returns to bring about the quietly eloquent conclusion.

Composed in 1987, the Prelude and Toccata finds the composer pursuing a more incisive pianism redolent of Bartók and Stravinsky. The Prelude is discreetly alluring in its rhythmic suppleness and harmonic elegance, for all that the final bars evince an unexpected pathos, while the Fugue is all litheness and agility in its ceaseless onward progress—the accrued momentum out of all proportion to its length and culminating in a headily decisive close.

The Sonata, composed in 1985, is the most elaborate and imposing of Maček’s solo piano works—but this is achieved not through excessive rhetoric but rather by underlining the abrupt yet productive dualism of its two movements which are comparable in length and intensity. The first movement commences with a forceful theme that extends across the keyboard, its often densely translucent harmonies finding contrast with the more resolute theme that duly makes its appearance. The concentrated development reaches a peak of sinewy rhetoric, then the main themes are freely transformed prior to a conclusion which rounds off matters off with suitable decisiveness. The second movement begins with an introduction as oblique as it is understated, so making the contrast with what follows all the greater. The main theme has an unyielding immediacy, and while the secondary idea brings repose, it fails to supplant its predecessor as the music unfolds. This latter does get its chance to expand, but the prevailing activity re-emerges for a scintillating conclusion.

Aside from the early ‘Romantic’ Piano Trio (1937), the majority of Maček’s chamber works were all written during the later years of his career. Among these pieces are the Cello Sonata (1955), String Quartet (1980), Wind Quintet (1987) and Concertino for Piano and Chamber Ensemble (1991). Composed in 1980, the Violin Sonata fairly typifies these works in terms of its technical sophistication and its creative inventiveness. Like the Piano Sonata written five years later, it adopts a two movement form of pronounced yet productive contrasts. The first movement opens with a lyrical theme in which the ‘singing’ quality of the violin is allowed full rein, though there is no lack of underlying intensity. The second theme is more offhand in manner, for all that the music’s prevailing poise is never seriously threatened, but the central span does admit of a greater impetus between the instruments and this is continued when the main themes are brought back for a cannily modified reprise and a heightened coda. It remains for the second movement to ring the changes with its excited repartee, though this finds contrast with the slower and increasingly impassioned theme which ensues. The earlier activity restored, the music surges on through a modified reprise of the first theme—arriving at a brief yet potent recollection of its successor before the exhilarating dash of the final bars.

Richard Whitehouse

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