JWR Articles: CD - A Prague Spring (Conductor: Jerzy Swoboda) - September 17, 2008
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A Prague Spring

4.5 4.5

MMC2168
First-rate Homans disc

This survey of Peter Homans’ creative abilities is a marvellous array of texture, tone and terrain—the later covering chamber, choral and orchestral forms.

Most certainly, “Plié de trois” should find a choreographer who could fully realize its visual and dramatic potential.

While slightly favouring the flute (Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin is a joy; happily, she doesn’t shy away from rendering a Sahara-dry staccato when required), the viola (Anne Black readily soars above and around her colleagues and—intriguingly—comes across as the most “present” from this trio of disparate sounds) is truly an equal partner and the piano (a deceptively-easily-produced legato is most welcome from Donald Berman) provides much forward impetus and soothing, reflective interventions when required.

The bouncy, energetic first movement—featuring a deliciously-bluesy middle—is followed by a dreamy mist, an ounce of pain and a fleeting march (devilishly fun) before some early echoes and a quiet adieu. The finale lifts off with a richly-contemplative atmosphere and film-score vagueness until a long ostinato-laden build—balanced with a few arid measures—reaches its climax before all disappear into the wings.

Four Choruses, Homans’ settings of Richard Wilbur’s quartet of poems, are notable for multiple—frequently overlapping—lines that effectively serve and support the integrity of the text. Conductor Jerzy Swoboda (ably assisted by the recording engineer) has sculpted an impressively controlled reading that is only marred by a few vagaries of pitch and occasional lack of unanimity on the final consonants. “The Lilacs” is by far and away the most satisfying—its emotional impact as staggering as its intensely constructed imagery.

Quintino (2006) is a study of colour and contrasts that can’t seem to decide where it’s going. Particularly effective are the viola (Black) and cello (Michael Curry) contributions to what seems to be a soundscape without a cause. Magically, a rumble from the keyboard with 90 seconds remaining propels the music into a fluttering frenzy that (and not a moment too soon) captivates all the way to culminating consonance.

What does political upheaval sound like? Many composers have tried to depict the beginnings, middle or end of brutal tyranny with varying degrees of success.

In A Prague Spring, Homans has opted to employ a pair of woodwind protagonists to lead his symphonic poem of hope and change. Flautist Cathrine Saunders is nothing short of superb in her fearless depiction of the power of one voice amongst many. Her extended supersonic shriek would capture the attention of even the most tone-deaf dictator; her confident, creatively-expressed cadenza—so courageously alone— makes myriad points compellingly. It then falls to the oboe—the other voice of reason—to lead the way back to the security of the full band and conductor Vlad Valek’s steady hands.

The metaphorical drums and nervous strings—heady with the sense of a coming “big event”—press on. Finally, a shared theme speaks volumes about unity of purpose and inspires huge wafts of unstoppable sound that, at last, turns the churning tide of events into something positive.

Homans has lovingly recreated a momentous occasion (the 1968 uprising of the same name) whose message of possibility and persistence should be heard in concert halls worldwide—no matter which regime built or subsidizes them. JWR

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Repertoire:
Plié de trois Mvmt. I, Mvmt. II, Mvmt. III
4 Choruses
Quintino
A Prague Spring
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