These feisty and caustic travelers who polkadot
their way across continental Europe grow ever more peculiar as time passes.
As most members of society grow and change with culture and technology, the
gypsies remain seemingly dormant or frozen in time. Interacting with gypsies
is much like Dorian Gray gazing at his own contorted painting: As we remain
in touch with the changes of the world, the gypsies become ever more so
pesky and grotesque.
In the mid to late 19th century there was a fascination with the lifestyles
of these now begrudged people. Adolf Heyduk, a Czech poet, had in 1859
published an anthology titled, Ciganske melodie (Gypsy Melodies) which
quickly inspired composers Karel Bendl and Antonin Dvorak, (both Czech) to
set his words to music. The Suprahon label (which shares its homeland with
the aforementioned artists) has uniquely compiled four composers (including
Johannes Brahms and Vitezslav Novak) who had in the 1880’s and 90’s adapted
their music to Heyduk’s poetry.
These songs capture gypsies as the unfettered and passionate people they
once were conceived to be. In a distant time when they differed far less
from the average citizen than they do now, their lifestyles were possibly
viewed as more exuberant than the perceived nuisance they are today. This
album simply titled, “Gypsy Melodies” consists of baritone Roman Janal and
pianist Karel Kosarek breathing a new life into these seldom heard
Janal and Kosarek shift deftly through the four set of songs almost
seamlessly. The pieces by Karel Bendl are the shortest and most epigrammatic
of all of the Heyduk passages and prove to sound the most exotic of all four
composers. The piano is used to evoke the authentic gypsy ensemble by acting
as the triangle and cimbalon at several points. This gives the first
fourteen pieces a flavorful almost non-western feel which is contrasted to
the romantiscm of the Vitezslav Novak set.
Johannes Brahms’ set consists of text translated from Hungarian and prove
to sound thicker and more like Brahms than non-western music. However, his
pieces are lightly sprinkled with a few subtleties of gypsy music. Pianist
Kosarek elegantly handles the change of style from the Bendl’s ethnological
yearnings to Dvorak’s and Novak’s more lyrical sounds. Baritone Janal is
superb in handling the upper tenor reaches of Novak’s pieces. He performs
with a boundless and flawless air that enhances these recordings and
provides the listener with a masterful range of emotion and sound. Together
with Kosarek’s piano playing they make a truly magnificent record.
Overall, “Gypsy Melodies” captures a historical moment in time when the
burgeoning middle class began to react with an estranged population. Though,
more than a mere document of 19th century social class differences, the
music and poetry revived here is thoughtfully fashioned with attention to
detail and beauty. This album provides more weight than one imagines there
to be. And even if you have ever haggled with the gypsies while vacationing
in Paris it may bring a new perspective and adoration to those commonly
regarded as vile and plunderous beings.