Viktor Kalabis (1923-2006)
Supraphon SU4210-2

Tomáš Jamník (cello)
Anna Paulová (clarinet)
Jan Fišer (violin)
Ivo Kahánek (piano)
rec. 2016-17, Martinů Hall of the Music and Dance Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts, Prague
Cello Sonata, Op.29 (1968) [24:11]
Ivo Kahánek, Tomáš Jamník
I. Allegro moderato 4:25
II. Andante 6:39
III. Allegro molto e drammatico 13:03
Clarinet Sonata, Op. (1969) [23:10]
Ivo Kahánek, Anna Paulová
I. Allegro moderato 5:49
II. Andante 5:49
II. Allegro molto e drammatico 11:27
Violin Sonata, Op.58 (1982) [18:14]
Ivo Kahánek, Jan Fišer
I. Allegro vivo 4:49
II. Adagio 4:26
III. Molto vivo 8:57
Both Viktor Kalabis’ Cello and Clarinet sonatas were written in the shadow of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Both are marked by it and display a brooding, sometimes almost obsessive quality wholly understandable given Kalabis’ own feelings of helplessness and protest.
The Cello Sonata was finished the month after the August 1968 invasion and reveals a strenuous intensity occasionally leavened by refined, elegant paragraphs; moments of reprieve amidst the shadows. The slow movement most intensely bears the obsessive elements noted above, a product of rhythmic insistence not unlike Prokofiev’s, allied to an intensely introspective tolling motif. As with his slightly later Clarinet sonata the finale is longer than the first two movements put together. Here one finds a long, expressive lament contextualised into taut driving rhythms. The sonata ends with unresolved tension, quietly. One thing these two sonatas share is that the movement titles are precisely the same - Allegro moderato, Andante, and finally Allegro molto e drammatico. And in the 1969 Clarinet sonata a compelling feature is the busyness of the piano writing and the way the clarinet circles around itself effortfully, never seeming to resolve. Are there, in the midst of the complex and agitated dissonances of the central movement, deliberate echoes of Chopin’s Funeral March? This sombre and passionate music shows no let-up in the finale – that, like the Cello sonata, gradually slows to a listless quietude.
It seems clear to me that these sonatas should be seen as a diptych, expressing in various ways, and through different voices, the unremitting despair Kalabis continued to feel.
The Violin Sonata is a later work, dating from 1982. It’s gritty and vibrant, flecked with taut abrupt phraseology, its slow movement again powerfully introspective but admitting some purposeful, indeed powerhouse piano chording. There are plenty of contrasts in the finale, the longest movement but not – this time – twice as long as the first two combined. The contrasts are couched in terms of variations of tempo, but also motifs and the play of voicings.
The booklet note writer Petr Veber calls the Violin Sonata ‘elliptical and coherent’. Quite how elliptical is something for the listener to decide. If Kalabis’ music is termed Neo-Romantic, as it is by some commentators, then its most notable features are Kalabis’s individual sense of form and his exploration of the ambiguities of expressive breadth in his music. It is seldom an easy listen, but it is always rewarding.
The three interpreters are some of the Czech Republic’s most brilliant young instrumentalists. Anchoring things is pianist Ivo Kahánek who has already recorded Kalabis’ solo piano music for Supraphon. Anna Paulová is a most eloquent clarinet soloist and both Tomáš Jamník and Jan Fišer prove masterful in their control of the string sonatas’ rhetoric. With first class sonics this is an indispensable acquisition for admirers of the composer’s music.

Jonathan Woolf