Encore: From Silesian yodels to Martinu in a bathtub

In this edition of Encore we look at a new and fascinating CD of yodeling songs from Silesia, we hear a new release of Martinu concertos recorded back in the 1970s, and we enjoy an engaging new recording of music by the lesser known 18th century Czech composer, Pavel Vranicky.

Otmar Macha and the art of the Silesian yodeling song

We start with an unusual and haunting new CD, featuring some Silesian yodeling songs by composer Otmar Macha. This may come as a surprise. Silesia, straddling the Czech-Polish border, may have a few mountains, but it certainly is not alpine!

The original Czech title for these songs is Lachian yodel songs, the Lachian, or Lasske, region being a subset of the Czech part of Silesia. Yodeling originated as a form of communication, to send messages across valleys and these songs are in that tradition. But I would hesitate to call this truly yodeling. 'Calling' would probably be a better translation, because yodeling is a rather specific vocal technique using falsetto, and Macha is not using that here. Instead, he makes use of echo effects and folkish elements typical of yodeling.

The composer Otmar Macha is from Silesia - he was born in Ostrava in 1922 and is happily still very much with us, living in Prague. He has had great success with these songs, which are written for children's chorus.

The CD features the Jitro children's chorus from Hradec Kralove, directed by Jiri Skopal on a new CD released by Amabile.

A new CD of Martinu concertos

We turn now to another 20th century composer, albeit one a generation ahead of Otmar Macha, Bohuslav Martinu. A new CD has come out called 'The Best of Concertos', featuring three concertos for various combinations of instruments. For this CD, released by Levne knihy (primarily a book publishers), it appears they bought the rights to some Russian radio recordings from the 1970's. The performances are excellent, though the sound quality can be odd at times. A nice example is the slow movement of the concerto for flute, violin and chamber orchestra, written in France in 1938. It sounds a bit as though it was recorded in a bathtub, but it is rather compelling. The movement is typical of Martinu's originality in that the solo instruments do not enter until after a minute or so of music. The performers' names are given in Soviet-era style - R. Hofman, flute and V. Zuk, violin and 'chamber orchestra'. The CD also features the concerto for string quartet and orchestra and the concerto for cello and orchestra.

A "little master" from 18th century Moravia

Let's turn now to a composer new to Encore - Pavel Vranicky, who was born in Moravia in 1756, the same year as Mozart.

I must say I was charmed by the program notes for this disk. So often CDs featuring the works of lesser-known composers strive to make them seem the equal of the great masters such as Beethoven or Mozart, and it's usually a stretch. This essay respectfully discusses the role of 'little masters', such as Vranicky, without making any grand claims for them.

And yet you can hear why such composers were successful in their day, and can be listened to with pleasure today. We have a new double CD from Supraphon with four of Vranický's symphonies (he wrote 51 of them). He spent his career in Vienna, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Haydn and Beethoven, and evidently respected by them. At Haydn's request, he conducted Haydn's Creation oratorio, and at Beethoven's request, the premiere of the First Symphony.

He lived in a time before the so-called Czech national awakening, when educated and professional people still spoke German as a matter of course, though they may have spoken Czech at home. Thus he spelled his name in the German fashion, Paul Wranitsky, and it is under this spelling that he is better known.

CDs reviewed in this programme are provided by Siroky Dvur