Viktor Kalabis The Complete Piano Works.
Text: EN, GE, FR, CZ. Recorded:
2016-2018, Martinu Hall, Prague.
Published: 2019. TT: 2:04:30.
DDD. 2 CD Supraphon
We rarely encounter Kalabis' piano works on concert stages today, despite the fact that most of his pianistic oeuvre was published during his lifetime. This Supraphon double CD offers a unique opportunity to acquaint ourselves with all of the composer's pieces for piano, and what's more, in Ivo Kahanek's interpretation. The first disc contains three piano sonatas. The early three-movement Sonata no. /op. a, composed in 1947, is strongly influenced by neo-classicism in the spirit of Prokofiev. The two-movement Sonata no. 2 op. 4, composed a year later, speaks an entirely different language. I consider its second movement, powered by a colourful narrative (sometimes almost ghostlike), one of Kalabis' most remarkable piano pieces (after all, the composer was apparently very fond of the sonata himself). The Sonata no. 3 op. 57 is also in two movements, written much later, in 1982. It has a very effective and interestingly coloured slow opening movement. The verbose and formally excessive second movement is unfortunately not among the best of Kalabis' work for piano.
The second disc opens with the eight-part cycle Akcenty op. 26 (Accents, 1967). These fresh, imaginative, and relatively short pieces have a comparatively transparent instrumental texture which occasionally seems to remind one of Scarlatti.
The representative Entrata, aria e toccata op. 41 (1975) refers to its Baroque inspiration already in its name. The Three Polkas op. 52 (1979) are something of a curiosity in Kalabis' piano oeuvre. He was a great admirer and champion of the work of Bohuslav Martinu: after 1989, he became the president of the Bohuslav Martinu Foundation, he initiated the establishment of the Bohuslav Martinu Institute, as well as the instrumental competition bearing the composer's name. And in his Three Polkas - particularly the first and third - he admits to his great inspiration so vehemently and openly it's almost touching. Another curiosity on this recording is Ctyri skryvacky pro Grahama op. 71 (Four Enigmas for Graham, 1989). Kalabis dedicated it to the British musicologist Graham Melville-Mason, a great connoisseur and avid promoter of Czech music. The opening movement includes a cryptogram of his given name: g-r(e)-a-h-a-m(i), which also makes an appearance in the three movements that follow. The last pieces on the disc are the Two Toccatas op. 88 (1999) and Allegro impetuoso op. 89 (1999). Kalabis composed the Two Toccatas for the Carl Czerny International Piano Competition. These are effective pianistic compositions without any higher artistic ambitions, more reminiscent of a musical mosaic or collage. Allegro impetuoso does have its own opus number, but it is not particularly different in character from the Two Toccatas. All of Kalabis' piano compositions have one thing in common: they're very demanding for pianists in all respects - technically and in terms of musical thought and expression. Ivo Kahanek devoted three and a half years of his life to this project, getting deeper into Kalabis' strange pianistic world than probably anyone before him. He plays these pieces with unusual understanding, admirable fantasy, rich nuances of attack and colour, an unwavering sense of humour and poetry, a safe feeling for solid architecture, and, of course, with brilliant, absolutely certain and sovereign technical sill. The pianist deserves our admiration all the more since Kalabis' piano pieces (essentially quite exclusive and often considerably sophisticated) are hard to make use of in on the concert circuit.