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Gypsy Melodies
23 Jun 2006

Gypsy Melodies

“Gypsies! Filthy, dirty, thieving gypsies!” cried Amy Sedaris as Jerri Blank from one delightful Strangers With Candy episode years back. For those who have experienced a forced ‘chance’ meeting with one of these colorful characters in say, Granada, Spain, they may have espoused a similar belief in recent years.

Gypsy Melodies

Roman Janal (Baritone), Karel Kosarek (Piano)

Supraphon FL 3813

$15.99  Click to buy

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 treasures.

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.

B. Fraipont

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