Cypresses – Gipsy Melodies – Evening Songs
Pavol Breslik, tenor
Robert Pechanec, piano
2017 is a demanding year for Slovak tenor Pavol Breslik, who has released three recordings one after another: a Mozart recital in the fall of 2016 and then two albums devoted to Antonín Dvořák’s opera The Spectre’s Bride and the solo album Dvořák Songs. The present review is about this last, collecting three cycles (Cypresses, Evening Songs and Gipsy Melodies) for a total of thirty songs among the more than one hundred that the composer wrote in his lifetime.
Dvořák composed his songs on texts from a variety of languages as Czech, Moravian, Slovak, Serbian, modern Greek, Russian, Lithuanian and Irish folk poetry or by Czech poets. This last is the case of the Cypresses (or Cypřiše, B11), Dvořák’s first song opus on words by Gustav Pfleger-Moravský.
The Cypresses is a cycle of eighteen songs that Dvořák set to music in 1865 following the romantic tradition of Schubert and Schumann and reveals his typical connection between melody and text. Twelve of the songs were later arranged by Dvořák himself for string quartet under the title Ohlas písní (or Echo of Songs). The inspiring reason of the composition of the Cypresses was the composer’s rejection by the actress Josefina Carmakova, who later was to be his sister-in-law, and therefore they represent just «a young man in love», as Dvořák himself explained to the dedicatee of the cycle, Karel Brendl.
The Evening Songs (or Večerní písně) have been written in June and July 1876 to poems from the collection of the same name by Vitezslav Halek and Schubert’s and Schumann’s influence is still persistent in their structure. The Evening Songs were later revised and published several times, but it was only in the last edition that the title with which they are known today finally appeared. The cycle is dedicated to Dvořák’s friend and baritone Josef Lev. As for the Gipsy Songs (or Cigánské Melodie or Zigeunermelodien), Dvořák compose them in 1880 to a German translation of Adolf Heyduk’s popular poems to please Gustav Walter, leading tenor at Vienna’s Hofoper.
Dvořák Songs is one of the best ways to hear Pavol Breslik’s incredible improvement and growth from the vocal and the interpretative point of view in just few years. Breslik’s voice has softness and elegance that suits Dvořák’s fine tunes in the most natural way and his musicality is definitely out of question. The lyrical subjects of the Cypresses are absolutely appropriate to the tenor and are particularly well performed in You Ardent Songs, On the Mountains Quiet or Over the Countryside Reigns a Light Sleep – just to mention a few.
The Evening Songs are instead the occasion to open up new horizons and are introduced by When I Was Looking to the Sky, in which Breslik adds a little touch of concreteness that was not possible to give to the previous songs. You Little, Tiny Birds is another example of the more vivacity of the Evening Songs and Breslik describes its scene with sympathy before focusing again on thoughtful meditations in I Am Like a Lavish Linden Tree. All Ye Who Are Oppressed is maybe the most tragic piece of the album and Breslik does not mistake emphasizing its gloomy and unhappy character before returning to relaxation in A Bird Sings Many a Song.
The Gipsy Songs are, as their title suggests, the liveliest part of the album and allow Breslik to evoke charming atmospheres as in The Woods Are Silent, although the last three, cheerful songs (The String Is Tuned, Wild Sleeves and Give the Hawk a Cage) are the best pieces of this cycle.
Dvořák Songs is absolutely a revelation and an enjoyable and refined album.