CDE84555 Novak Piano Music

Novak Piano Music - Niel Immelman

Novak Piano Music - Niel Immelman

Product Description



Novk - Piano Music
Niel Immelman

Bagatelles, op.5
Sonatina, op.54 no.1 Spring
Mld , op.55
Two Slovak Children:
Serenades, op.9

Sound Sample
Apart from a handful of works, Dvorák’s output for solo piano is rather disappointing, consisting mainly of salon pieces clearly aimed at amateur players. But two of his students made substantial and significant contributions to the genre: Josef Suk [1874-1935] and Vítezslav Novák [1870-1949]. Suk’s music changed dramatically during the course of his career, a change precipitated by the deaths in close succession of Dvorák and Dvorák’s daughter Otilie, who was Suk’s wife. John Tyrrell, the leading authority on Czech music, goes so far as to speak of Suk’s “before” and “after” works. Novák’s style developed more gradually and remained remarkably consistent. As a student he had resented the strict discipline required by the formal study of harmony and counterpoint but in time he honed his contrapuntal skills and became more daring in his use of dissonance. Moravian and Czech folk music, which at first merely added a touch of the exotic, became an essential part of his musical language.

Novák’s childhood was not a happy one. He was plagued by ill-health, and his family’s financial problems were exacerbated by the death of his father when Vítezslav was twelve years old. His remarkable musical ability first began to show itself when he was at secondary school, initially through his pianistic mastery and his compelling improvisations. An academic scholarship to study law at the Prague University enabled him to gain access to the Prague Conservatory and realise his dream of studying composition. To begin with, his teachers were at a loss as to how to guide the young man whom they saw as rebellious and undisciplined, and it was only when he entered Dvorák’s class that his talent began to blossom. He gained in confidence, and in years to come the fact that he had been taught by the master opened many doors to him. He was made professor of the composition masterclass at the Prague Conservatory in 1909, and the following year he signed a lucrative contract with Universal Edition.

The years after the First World War saw a gradual decline in his standing as a composer. Janácek was emerging as the new leading light in Czech music, and Novák’s involvement in a pointless Dvorák-Smetana controversy did his reputation no favours. Nevertheless, he continued to compose and devoted more of his time to teaching, his association with the Prague Conservatory lasting some 30 years.

Although published by Novák as his opus 5, the Bagatelles date from as late as 1899. The hauntingly beautiful Reminiscence, with which the set begins, immediately alerts one to Novák’s excellent ear for sonority. This would remain a strong feature throughout his life, not least in the luminosity of his orchestral works. Incidentally, this piece also requires a pedal technique of the utmost subtlety from the pianist. The Scherzino, although notated throughout in 6/8, frequently wrong-foots the listener by sounding as if it was written in 3/4. The charmingly Borodin-like third piece is followed by a spirited Serenata, in which Novák gives full rein to his fondness for rhythmic puns.

The Sonatina in C, op. 54 no.1, “Spring” is cast in classical mould but each movement has a descriptive title. The first, “The Lark soars into the clouds”, stems from Novák’s love of nature and delights through his piquant use of harmonic sidesteps. “Forest Greeting” concerns itself with colour and atmosphere, enhanced by quiet birdcalls linking it to the opening movement. The finale, “Merry Company”, is in rondo form. A delicious change to E flat major brings a surprise with the main thematic idea of the slow movement now transformed into something altogether more lively. This theme makes another appearance in the coda.

Mládí [Youth], op. 55 lies somewhere between Schumann’s Album für die Jugend and his Kinderszenen. Novák also borrowed one of the titles, The little Shepherd, from Debussy’s Children’s Corner Suite. The composer was sometimes described as cold and distant by those who did not belong to his inner circle, but the subtlety and imagination with which he recalls the joys and, occasionally, sorrows of youth can leave one in no doubt that he was a man of rare sensitivity. Many of the miniatures are extremely short with only seven pieces lasting more than two minutes, their development sometimes limited to subtle harmonic changes. The intimate nature of these pages renders them particularly suited to the medium of recording, enabling the listener to select as many or as few as he wishes to hear in one sitting. As in his other collections of miscellaneous pieces, Novák made astute choices regarding order, resulting in telling contrasts of mood, texture and tonality. Most of the titles refer to familiar childhood experiences but he also makes the odd excursion into folk dances of which the Sousedská and Furiant are particularly idiomatic examples. Only the final Devil’s Polka, an intoxicating evocation of a frenetic Danse macabre, steps outside the character of the rest of the set.

Novák had wide cultural interests, was passionate about contemporary art, read widely and spoke five languages. Each of the Serenades, op. 9 is prefaced by a short quotation from a love poem by a contemporary Czech writer. In the first, soaring melodic lines, richly harmonised, alternate with shorter scherzando interjections. The poem for the second, Mendelssohnian, Serenade, alludes to the image of Juliet. But it is in the third that the music most closely relates to the text, in which the poet says that his only way of expressing his unrequited longing is through song. As in the fourth Bagatelle, arpeggiated left hand chords in the final Serenade evoke the image of the wandering minstrel accompanying himself.

© 2007 Niel Immelman

Niel Immelman studied with Cyril Smith, Ilona Kabos and Maria Curcio. He was still a student at the Royal College of Music when Bernard Haitink invited him to play Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This highly successful début was followed by further appearances with the London Philharmonic, the Royal Philharmonic and other major orchestras at the Royal Festival Hall, the Albert Hall and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and it marked the beginning of a distinguished concert career that has taken him to every continent. His commercial recordings have received outstanding critical acclaim and have featured in Classic CD magazine’s “Pick of the Year”.

Niel’s extensive repertoire ranges from the Elizabethan virginalists to the present and he has given a number of world premières. He has long had a special interest in Czech music and he is the first and, until now, the only pianist to have recorded the complete piano works of Josef Suk, also for Meridian. He is Professor of Piano at the Royal College of Music in London.

Novak Piano Music - Niel Immelman