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The Buffalo Philharmonic scales the heights with music by Vítezslav Novák

June 29, 2016

The Buffalo Philharmonic [BPO] and music director JoAnn Falletta report how they recently spent a day recording their latest CD for Naxos and revelling in “music of extraordinary atmosphere, gorgeous texture and sublime poignancy that is surprisingly little known on the concert stage today”:

The composer in question? Vítězslav Novák (1870–1949), who developed his art against the backdrop of fervent Bohemian nationalism. A student of Antonín Dvořák and a close friend of Joseph Suk, Novák was inspired by the patriotic ardour of composer Bedřich Smetana to create a body of music steeped in the landscape and people of Bohemia. His work embodies full-blown romanticism—melodically rich, dramatic, and crafted in multi-hued textures that shimmer with orchestral colour. The BPO’s recording comprises three of his works.

Novák’s In the Tatra Mountains stands as an equal to Strauss’ Alpine Symphony for its amazing portrayal of the beautiful mountain range between Poland and Slovakia. The composer himself suffered from depression for much of his life, but was always able to find solace and tranquillity in the shelter of these mountains. The music creates an epic vista, lonely and solitary. Novák seems to make time stand still as the listener experiences the musical portrayal of these peaks, which remain mysterious and unknowable. Filled with a poignant melancholy, the music bespeaks a great solemnity, as if the mountains themselves are the priestly guardians of a sanctuary. There’s a sense of the primitive—gloomy forests and waterfalls, luminous mountain air, timelessness. After a dramatic storm, serenity returns as the mountains draw in on themselves, hiding the dark, inscrutable soul of the Tatras.

Novák’s Eternal Longing is Bohemian in nature, but it also betrays the composer’s love of the music of Debussy and French Impressionism. It was inspired by a poem of Hans Christian Andersen, in which the moon tells a tragic tale. A flight of swans travels by night, and a young swan, less strong than the rest, falls gently onto the water to rest, like a beautiful white flower. When the sun rises, the little swan flies off to search for his friends, but in vain; he’s doomed to fly forever alone, filled with longing. From the opening sea shimmering in the moonlight, to the flight of swans, to the gorgeous harmonies that are reminiscent of Mahler and Zemlinsky, Novák has crafted a work that is utterly luminous.

Also included on the CD programme is the brilliant overture, Lady Godiva, a blustery and dramatic retelling of the ancient legend, celebrating the triumph of the goodness of Godiva and the love of the townspeople for their beautiful champion, complete with tolling bells at the conclusion.

All the artists involved in this new recording extend their thanks for the tireless support of producer Tim Handley, and to Klaus Heymann, chairman of the Naxos Music Group, for his indefatigable curiosity about little known music that deserves to be played and loved.

JoAnn Falletta Biography & Discography

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Background & Discography

Vítězslav Novák Biography & Discography


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