Encore: An organist who would leave his audience entranced, 18th century Bohemian passion in Prussia and Dvorak with a touch of silk.


In this edition of Encore we look at recent recordings that cover two centuries of Czech music. We start with a composer and organist who is enjoying a much earned revival after long neglect by the communist regime, we relish the Sturm and Drang of the late 18th century, and we look at a CD of a rising star on the Czech conducting scene.

Bedrich Antonin Wiedermann: a new CD revives the work of an influential teacher, performer and composer

We start with an undeservedly neglected Czech composer and a new CD entitled simply Bedrich Antonin Wiedermann, on the Rosa label. Wiedermann was born in Moravia, and lived from 1883 until 1951. He was educated in Prague, partly at a seminary, and was briefly a student of Vitezslav Novak. Wiedermann became an influential teacher himself, and, evidently, a much-loved and very active performer.

In the CD booklet one of his students, composer Jiri Ropek, writes, "Every week I would look forward to Tuesday evening. I would rush to the Emmaus church... I would glance upwards with reverence to catch the tiniest glimpse of this amazing man, who had the gift of awakening unforgettable feelings in his listeners through his art. I used to leave entranced."

It would be marvellous to have heard his playing, but sadly it seems that there is only one known recording of Wiedermann performing. He composed some 340 works, but very little is published or recorded. This was not helped by the fact that he was not appreciated by the communists. So this CD, which contains pieces for soprano and organ as well as for organ solo, is doing a great service.

The mezzosoprano we hear on the CD is Pavla Vykopalova and the organ is in Saint James's Basilica in Prague, played by the church's chief organist Irena Chribkova. The organ was restored under Wiedermann's own supervision in the 1940s, when he turned it into a large romantic organ from the Baroque organ it had been. It has since been turned back into a hybrid, with the original stops as well as some of the romantic components.

Sturm and Drang in the work of Jiri Antonin Benda

We turn now to works by the late 18th century composer, Jiri Antonin Benda, whom you may know as Georg Benda, since most of his working life was spent in German-speaking lands, specifically in Prussia. We have a new CD, on the Arta label, of four concerti for harpsichord and string quartet, performed by Václav Luks and the Collegium 1704. Benda was active during the so-called Sturm und Drang period, and in literature this had to do with young people rebelling against conventions, immersing themselves in nature, and giving precedence to the convictions of the heart over reason. In music this was expressed especially in an emphasis on strong dynamic contrasts, minor keys, lots of chromaticism, and a renewed interest in counterpoint, which had largely fallen by the wayside after the days of Bach. All this is meant to give a sense of passion and feeling, and this style, in music, this was known as the empfindsamer Stil, meaning 'sensitive style'.

Benda had some of his greatest success with melodramas - that is, spoken word and music - which, as we have seen on earlier shows, is a Czech specialty. Benda's melodramas were admired by Mozart, and inspired Mozart in fact to plan to write his own melodrama. Unfortunately he never got round to it.

Interestingly there are no less than 12 Bendas listed in the Grove's Dictionary of Music, and members of the family are active musicians to this day, both in the Czech Republic and abroad.

Jakub Hrusa: bringing a silken sound to the Prague Philharmonia

We end with the debut CD of a rising star on the Czech conducting scene, Jakub Hrusa, with the Prague Philharmonia chamber orchestra. This is a Supraphon recording of Dvorak's Czech Suite and Waltzes. This repertoire has of course been well-covered by the greats of the past, but Hrusa has a little extra to offer, as he gets a remarkably silken sound of the orchestra.

Not all pieces on the CD are well known. It includes waltzes, originally written for piano, which were orchestrated by the esteemed Dvorak scholar Jarmil Burghauser. He did a fine job of imitating Dvorak's orchestration.

CDs reviewed in this programme are provided by Siroky Dvur