Concerts in the Czech Republic, Choral series
About the concert
Francis Poulenc (1899 – 1963) is an icon of French choral music of the 20th century. His music aims directly at the listener, conjuring up a mighty stream of imagination: it can be alternatively magically transparent and lyrical, or majestic and embued with tragedy and drama. In writing his Litanies à la Vierge Noire (“Litany to the Black Virgin”), Poulenc drew inspiration from the mystic qualities of the ancient pilgrimage site of Rocamadour. The composition is built around the contrast between the states of humble devotion and urgent supplication. In its turn, his Quatre petites prières de Saint Antoine d´Assise (“Four Little Prayers of Saint Francis of Assisi”) is conceived as a lyrical profession of faith. In terms of expression, the individual numbers here are characterized by extraordinary sonic beauty and mellifluousness. Finally, the motet Exultate Deo (“Sing Joyfully to God”) is an apotheosis of God, its setting of the psalmic text praising the Lord with singing voices and instrumental playing, Poulenc´s music assigning it the highest attribute of artistic achievement. Swedish composer Jan Sandström (b. 1957) is a true master in the art of engaging human voices in song. His choral compositions are characterized by an intoxicating sonic palette which, set against an underlying tender, “fuzzy” harmonic plane, evokes an impression of expanses bordering on infinity. His peacefully flowing Christmas motet, O magnum mysterium (“O Great Mystery”) is a substantial vocal fantasy on the theme of the nativity of Jesus. The same subject is dealt with in the composer´s paraphrase of the old German song Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (“Lo, How a Rose E´er Blooming”). There, he based himself on the four-century-old harmonization of this Christmas tune by Michael Praetorius (1571 – 1621). In his piece, Sandström makes it echo in from a distance, enshrouded in a subdued, neo-impressionist harmony, a perfect imprint of old times on the fabric of modern world. Any catalogue of Czech Christmas music would be incomplete without including “pastorelas”, a genre of Christmas songs and cantatas inspired by rustic life. They were traditionally composed by successive generations of country schoolmasters, marking their heyday at the turn of the 18th century. The rich pastorela tradition was newly taken up in the 20th century by Bohuslav Martinů (1890 – 1959), in the third act, entitled The Nativity of Jesus, of his opera The Miracle of Mary. Martinů compiled the libretto from texts of Moravian folk poetry, a source of inspiration which also projected into his musical idiom. As a result, this “Christmas act” of his opera – notwithstanding its magnificent final moment of catharsis (a chorale variation of the song Co to znamená medle nového) – is on the whole conceived with a lesser focus on dramatic impact than its remaining parts. Hence also its suitability for separate concert productions, as an original modern-age pastorela cantata, and indeed a gem of Czech Christmas music. (Lukáš Vasilek, Principal Conductor) .
= 2017 =
Kostel sv. Šimona a Judy
Kostel sv. Šimona a Judy
U Milosrdných, Staré Město, 110 00 Praha-Praha 1, Czechia