NOVÁK Testamentum. Fugae Vergiliane
Jan Novák was born in Moravia in 1921 and, after many problems with the Communist authorities and travels abroad that included sojourns in Italy and Denmark and studies in America with Martin≤ and Copland, died in Germany in 1984. He was posthumously honoured by President Václav Havel in 1996. Also belated but deserving is the recognition among music lovers that has begun to come his way.
The choral pieces recorded here reflect Novák’s fascination with Latin, both the language and classical culture, informed with a beguiling wit, elegance and humour. They also make considerable demands upon the technique and quickwittedness of the brilliant singers and conductor here. These are accompanied by four undaunted horns in Testamentum, a mock list of bequests attributed to the poet Villon (rather on the lines of Auden and MacNeice’s similar jeu d’esprit). Virgilian Fugues are indeed four musical fugues, punning with great virtuosity on the word’s meaning of ‘fleeing’. More substantial is the Christmas cantata Invitatio pastorum, in which the shepherds persist, against interventions from a cross bunch of devils, in seeking out the Christ Child, and succeed with their arrival at Bethlehem and triumphant ‘alleluias’ into which are sneaked allusions to the familiar carol O come all ye faithful. Mythological Exercises, to Novák’s own Latin texts, are eight thumbnail sketches that include Apollo, Orpheus, an erotic Erato, Midas (with his ass’s ears, a critic of course), the learned Minerva and finally a jazzily dancing Terpsichore. A most entertaining and exhilarating disc of music by an inventive and intelligent composer.