Frantisek Vajnar

Musica Antiqua Citolibensis

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Despite its arcane Latin title, Supraphon's four-CD set Musica Antiqua Citolibensis delivers on a part of the literature that coheres: the music created by local kapellmeisters in the Czech city of Citoliby. Although located outside of the loop of Bohemia's main cultural centers such as Prague and Brno, Citoliby enjoyed a period of primacy in music in the late eighteenth century owing to the refined tastes of its rulers, the Pachtas; the city's coat of arms bears the image of an organ. There is a Citoliby School of composers whose work is comparable to those of the contemporary Mannheim School, though quite different in style. The Citoliby School is dominated by a dynasty led by composer Václav Jan Kopriva, and one of his sons, Karel Blazej Kopriva, was its greatest exponent, and like Wolfgang Mozart, died young. Other composers featured on this set, such as Jan Adam Gallina, Jan Vent, and Jakub Lokaj, were quite satisfied to spend their whole careers living and working in Citoliby.

What makes this literature distinctive, apart from its easily recognizable Bohemian accent, is that it is like eighteenth century country music; even the sacred masses in Latin come off with a flavor that is rural and local. There is frequent use of drones, simple pentatonic melodies, and fiddle-like string writing, reminiscent to some extant of early American Moravian anthems, but minus the Dutch-German aspect. While individual composers -- particularly Karel Blazej Kopriva, whose Fuga sopra cognomen DEBEFE is as thorny and alien sounding as any organ music produced in the late classical period -- sound off within their own voices, the pastoral, countrified sound of this music is a distinguishing characteristic across the four discs.

The orchestral recordings, mainly made in the mid-'80s, aren't really up to Supraphon's best standards, being weak in the low range, rather tinny in the high, and delivering a stereo perspective strangely old fashioned for this era. The performances too are sub-par, although it's not too distracting given the nature of the music -- the lack of polish tends to underscore the folksy quality of several of these pieces. Nevertheless, all of the keyboard music included is both well recorded and played. Listeners with a special interest in music of the eighteenth century will not want to miss this, as the material is extraordinary in every way.

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