Kurka: Symphony No. 2, Julius Caesar, Music for Orchestra, Serenade for Small Orchestra

Kurka: Symphony No. 2, Julius Caesar, Music for Orchestra, Serenade for Small Orchestra

by Carlos Kalmar
     
 

Robert Kurka is remembered today -- if at all -- for composing an opera based on Jaroslav Hasek's novel The Good Soldier Schweik (which has also been recorded by the Cedille label). Kurka died when he was only 35, several months before that opera's 1958 premiere. If his career path seems to fit a classic mold of tragically unfulfilled talent, the fourSee more details below

Overview

Robert Kurka is remembered today -- if at all -- for composing an opera based on Jaroslav Hasek's novel The Good Soldier Schweik (which has also been recorded by the Cedille label). Kurka died when he was only 35, several months before that opera's 1958 premiere. If his career path seems to fit a classic mold of tragically unfulfilled talent, the four orchestral works on this recording will leave the listener impressed by how much Kurka managed to achieve in his short life. Even more than other major American composers of his time, Kurka ignored the postwar avant-garde's embrace of serialism and other audience-unfriendly practices. His music is unabashedly tonal but also totally serious; less ingratiating than Copland's populism but immediately ear-grabbing, rhythmically lively, and dramatically compelling. Kurka's Symphony No. 2 (1953) is the longest work here, though still quite compact in its 21-minute span. Echoes of other moderate modernists are audible -- Barber, Vaughan Williams, and Hindemith may come to mind -- but Kurka's music is no pale imitation. It has its own distinct profile, one element of which is its inexorable forward drive; even the slow movement seems to be carried along in a steady processional, while the vivacious finale demonstrates Kurka's utterly confident handling of a virtuoso orchestra. The other works unearthed here (two of them in world premiere recordings) are impressive, too. Julius Caesar (1955) is a model of concentrated symphonic drama; the earlier Music for Orchestra (1949) belies its generic title with a series of mysterious, violent, and evocative moods; and the Serenade for Small Orchestra (1954) rounds out this composer portrait by showing his more lyrical and playful side. Carlos Kalmar and the Chicago-based Grant Park Orchestra have done well by Kurka (himself a Chicago-area native) and have commendably restored a missing piece of the history of 20th-century American music in the process.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Blair Sanderson
The death of Robert Kurka in 1957 ended a promising career on the verge of success, which came posthumously with his acclaimed opera "The Good Soldier Schweik." Kurka's music abounds with muscular counterpoint and dissonant but tonal harmonies, transparently orchestrated with a strong emphasis on brass and martial percussion. His style often resembles Shostakovich or Nielsen in mood and coloration, and might be mistaken for either except for his syncopated rhythms and jazz-inflected melodies, which put his robust music in the American tradition. The "Symphony No. 2" is the most substantial work here and its tension is sustained over three balanced movements, alternating between dynamic development and melancholic lyricism, then resolving in the boisterous Presto gioioso. The three shorter works are less engrossing, but still reveal aspects of Kurka's fertile imagination. The brash and ominous tone poem "Julius Caesar" vividly captures the import of Shakespeare's tragedy, though without an explicit program. The "Music for Orchestra" is more jovial, and its folk-like melodies and bustling activity reveal Kurka's exuberant side. The "Serenade for Small Orchestra" is less lyrical than its title suggests and seems instead an energetic symphony in miniature. Carlos Kalmar conducts the Grant Park Orchestra in lucid performances, sometimes with remarkable power and authority, and Cedille's recording is fine.
St. Petersburg Times - Judith Buhrman
Lean, plain-spoken, muscular, and often beautiful, [Kurka's 2nd Symphony] should be in every orchestra's playbook as an example of the best of American composition in the 20th century. In three succinct, skillfully crafted movements, we hear accessible, virile music that is food for head and heart. [A+]

Product Details

Release Date:
06/29/2004
Label:
Cedille
UPC:
0735131907729
catalogNumber:
77
Rank:
380983

Tracks

  1. Julius Caesar, symphonic epilogue after Shakespeare, for orchestra, Op. 28  - Robert Kurka  - Carlos Kalmar  - Melanie Germond  -  Grant Park Orchestra
  2. Symphony No. 2, Op. 24  - Robert Kurka  - Carlos Kalmar  - Melanie Germond  -  Grant Park Orchestra
  3. Music for orchestra, Op. 11  - Robert Kurka  - Carlos Kalmar  - Melanie Germond  -  Grant Park Orchestra
  4. Serenade for small orchestra, Op. 25  - Robert Kurka  - Carlos Kalmar  - Melanie Germond  -  Grant Park Orchestra

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