Vladimír Válek

Antonín Tucapský: Stabat Mater; Mary Magdalene

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Czech composer Antonín Tucapský was born the year Leos Janácek died, studied at the Academy in Brno that bears Janácek's name, and studied under professors who were former Janácek students. He established himself in Czechoslovakia as a choral conductor and composer of renown, though that stage of his career drew swiftly to a close in the mid-'70s when he married English soprano Beryl Musgrave. His choice of bride soured the communist officials in regard to his musical abilities, and in 1975 Tucapský immigrated to London where he spent the remainder of his career. The Stabat Mater dates from 1989, the year Tucapský retired from his post at the Trinity College for Music, and is heard here in a performance by a group from his native land, the Prague Mixed Choir under Miroslav Kosler, supported by Vladimír Válek and the Czech Radio Symphony.

Tucapský is certainly honored -- and to some sense vindicated -- by having this music recorded in his native land after the collapse of the regime that called for his ouster. Unfortunately, the performance is wanting; the Czech Radio Symphony's brass is strident and not real secure, and the percussion section needs better coordination. The percussion here sounds a little like a circus carnival act, although that's partly due to the nature of the scoring. As a whole, this setting of the Stabat Mater is part Mahler, part Slavic, and part Hollywood; tasty it is, at times, but tasteful it is not. Something about it is pretty compelling, though, and for some reason you want to listen. Perhaps a better recording would reveal something about Tucapský's Stabat Mater that is more substantive than it seems, at least in this recording.

The Prague Mixed Choir might also be partly to blame; it sounds lax and under-energized in Mary Magdalene (1991), the 16-minute cantata that fills out the disc. This is a pity, as soprano soloist Pavla Aunická is definitely good, and the quality of the piece confirms the notion, only suggested in the Stabat Mater, that there is more to this music than meets the ear on this Somm recording, of which the Stabat is live, distant, and poorly balanced.

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