Vladimír Godár: Mater (ECM New Series 1985)

 

Vladimír Godár
Mater

Iva Bittová voice
Miloš Valent violin, viola
Chamber orchestra Solamente Naturali
Bratislava conservatory choir
Dušan Bill choirmaster
Marek Štryncl conductor
Recorded September 2005 at St. George Church in Svätý Jur, Slovakia
Recording director: Peter Zagar
Engineer: Otto Nopp
Produced by Pavian Records

Slovak composer Vladimír Godár’s Mater is really six pieces in one, each connecting into the larger whole of an hour-long cantata. The composer himself likens its introspections to travel: we arrive at a new place, only to scope out its most prominent features. Only with time can we find those niches, hidden alleys, and hideouts. The period instruments (played at period pitch) featured on this recording embody this philosophy to the letter, as do the voices, which switch comfortably between Yiddish, Slovak, Latin, and English throughout.

Godár’s experience as a film composer and interest in early music are both immediately evident in the opening Maykomashmalon (2005) for female voice, viola and violoncello. Singer Iva Bittová’s superb diction and commitment mix with her generous honesty to stunning effect in the present surroundings. This incantation is like that of a Latin mass, so that when the strings come in amid an earthen song, we have already felt that vocal urge in our hearts. Its song entwines the power of a lullaby and the catharsis of a lament. The 2003 Magnificat for female voice, choir, string orchestra and harp contrasts double bass drones and a choral middle ground with jagged consonants from strings. The entirety of this section arises as if its own nucleus, carrying the gravid harmonic changes of a Renaissance organum into the shadows of Luspávanky (Lullabies) (2001/03) for female voice, two violins, two violas and violoncello. The lead becomes more playful here, setting off a pentatonic intro through open strings, like a child playing on piano. As the piece winds down, Bittová brings an anthemic resurgence to bear on the encroaching silence. Ecce puer (1997) for female voice, two violins, viola, double-bass, harp, chitarrone and harpsichord takes James Joyce as its textual inspiration. The arrangement glows, Bittová unafraid to show the honesty of her vulnerability. The music cycles through its progressions, laying down lines with surety. With each repetition, it becomes more comforting. A glorious piece.

Yet it in the 2001 Stálá Matka (Stabat Mater) for alto, violin and chamber orchestra (and sung in Slovak) that we find the real heart of Mater. There is such ineffable purity here that one hardly notices the fleshiness of the playing. The power of monophony, caressed by every instrumental gesture, embraces the voice like a newborn in the amniotic flow of its revelation. One hears the ghost of Górecki here, hovering like a prophet as every stanza burrows deeper into itself. An orchestral swell at the center spreads like the bones of a gothic ceiling, from which censers spill out their smoky breath. So placated, we are lowered gently into the play of light in Regina coeli (2003) for female voice, violin, choir and chamber orchestra. With Renaissance colors, a single call is taken up by the chorus, thereby awakening the spirit of an age since buried in the battlefield of modernism, but now carefully unearthed, dusted off, and redressed. A reinstatement of Maykomashmalon ends and thereby fixes the piece in time, and in so doing sets it free to wander in ignorance of it.

Mater takes is melodic promises seriously. Fans of so-called “Holy Minimalism” are sure to feel right at home here, but also to become slowly aware that the term is redundant.

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