In Nature’s Realm: October 2011

Roderick Earle writes: In Nature’s Realm is a programme of central European music inspired by folk traditions. This music doesn’t get the airing in Britain that it deserves. With infectious melodies and foot-tapping rhythms, these folk inspired works from Bohemia, Slovakia and Hungary have an earthiness and charm that is quite unique. You will hear not just songs about love, but also about nature, folk myths and legend; songs that plunge you into the forests, mountains and plains of central Europe. I guarantee you will be entranced!

The starting point for this programme was Dvorak’s In Nature’s Realm (V Priode), a charming set of five part-songs by Dvorak, seldom heard in this country, like much Czech and Hungarian choral music, where for too long the language has been a barrier to amateur performance. We will be singing some works in English translation but others in the original Czech or Hungarian. Also by Dvorak are the Three Songs on Folk Texts for men’s voices and piano duet. I had to source the music for these wonderful pieces from the Prague National Library because, as far as I know, there are no copies in this country. I don’t think you will be disappointed by my trouble!
To give the ladies something to sing on their own, it was fortuitous to stumble across Suk’s 10 Songs for women’s voices and piano duet. We will sing three of these. Quite clearly they were inspired by Dvorak’s earlier works (Suk married Dvorak’s daughter) and they are just as tuneful and inventive as his father-in-law’s pieces. Two other wonderful works that cried out to be in the programme were Bartok’s Four Slovak Songs (Slovakian texts set by a Hungarian) and Kodaly’s earliest choral work, the atmospheric 8 part Este or Evening (not to be confused with the well-known but simpler Este Dal).
With two pianists it was obvious we should include some of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, the former inspired by the latter, for piano duet and well known in this original and the later orchestral versions. To round off the programme one might have thought that Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzer for choir and piano duet would be an obvious finale to the programme, but more exciting and varied and indeed more appropriate to our theme are Brahm’s Zigeunerlieder, German settings of gypsy love songs in a catchy Hungarian gypsy style.