Monday, May 28, 2012: Five-Star Clarinet

Opus Osm

Composer, teacher, and five-star clarinetist Jiří Hlaváč, at an earlier concert at The Rudolfinum.

Hommage à Karel Krautgarner: The Five Star Clarinet Quartet

The concert held May 19 in remembrance of the 30th anniversary of the death of the Czech jazz clarinetist and conductor Karel Krautgarner (1922 – 1982) was as eclectic as the career of this remarkable musician.

Ranging from transcriptions of some Bach cantatas to contemporary composers, this Prague Spring concert featured both the Five Star Clarinet Quartet under Jiří Hlaváč and, for the second part of the program, an excellent, if unnamed, string quintet.

Translations from one language to another, particularly of poetic works, are always fraught. As the word suggests, “translation” involves carrying a work across the divide that separates languages. If different cultures are to understand each other, this work is as necessary as it is difficult. The same can be said for transcriptions – in music, from one instrument to another.

Fifty years ago, musicological circles were still debating whether Bach’s cantatas should be sung in English. Those who held to the religious intent of his work argued that the understanding of the texts and, hence, translation, was essential for a non-German audience.

But others were happy to sacrifice the sense of the text for the pleasure of the sheer musicality of Bach’s work.

What can we say, then, of Bach transcribed for a clarinet quartet? We were struck by the gorgeous sonorities that filled the Czech National Bank Hall; we missed, however, the edginess of the originals. To us, the intensity of religious earnestness seemed “lost in translation.”

The transcription of Albinoni’s Sonata in G Minor fared much better. The transcription of strings to clarinets mellowed the original work, reinforcing its harmonies to give a fresh perspective on his work. The impeccable playing of the Five Star Clarinet Quartet was clear and crisp.

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The appreciative CNB Hall audience hung on every note Mr Hlaváč produced.

Jiří Hlaváč’s Solo for the Old Lady, was conducted by the composer. This flawless performance showcased the considerable abilities of Mr Hlaváč and his quartet.

In the second half the program, Mr Hlaváč teamed up with a remarkable group of five string players – Jan Mráček and Michal Sedláček, violins; Jakub Novák, viola; Petr Nouzovský, cello; and Pavel Nejtek, double bass – whose sonorities matched those of his earlier quartet. Both the featured composers, Tomáš Svoboda and Josef Vejvoda, were in the audience to received the prolonged and grateful acknowledgment of the audience.

The highlight of the evening was Mr Svoboda’s Prayer for Clarinet and String Quartet. Beginning and ending with meditative passages, its middle section signaled the conflicting emotions of the surprising and often tragic history of the years that have filled the life of this composer born in 1939. Its final meditative section left us suspended between resignation and a more hopeful acceptance of the last seventy-three years.

Hommage à Karel Krautgartner, with its multiple musical references, felt like a lighthearted walk through much of the musical history associated with Mr Krautgartner. All in all, the combination of strings and clarinets was a delightful surprise. — oo

– James Mensch

Photo Credits: Top: Miroslav Setnička; bottom, Zuzana Sklenková

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