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Ivo Malec

Sonoris causa (1997)
Ottava alta (1995)
Exempla (1994)

Raphaƫl Oleg (violin), Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Arturo Tamayo, 2004



Epistola (2006): cantata for soloists, choir and orchestra
Arc-En-Cello (2003): concerto for cello and orchestra

Claudia Barainski (soprano), Marjana Lipovsek (mezzo soprano), Robin Leggate (tenor) & Ralf Lukas (bass); Ilia Laporev (cello)
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/ Emmanuel Krivine (World Premiere Recordings, 2008)


This Paris based composer, Croatian born (1925), is still active in his mid-80s. The English Channel is wide in terms of contemporary musical travel and it may well be that most readers will scarcely have heard of him. Ivo Malec has been prolific and is widely recorded, though many of the earlier discs may be hard to find.

These two from timpani, both recorded in Luxembourg, offer an excellent introduction to one of the most exciting composers of today, one whose interest is predominantly in sound as sound, that aspect seized upon in these vividly recorded discs.

Begin, perhaps, with exempla (1995), a retrospective compendium, a half-hour concerto for large orchestra in thirteen short linked sections which revisit his earlier work, creating a vast tapestry of sound, each one arrestingly titled to characterise its essence. This will give you a good idea of what we have all been missing.

A devotee of bowed strings, Malec has at least three concertos. He "reinvented" the double bass in a concerto yet to be recorded, but here we have two. The violin concerto Ottava alta is the easiest to approach and enjoy; Malec settled for working within the instrument's familiar "mad and extraordinarily sovereign genius", creating a cyclical single movement of 23 minutes in which the violin is allowed to be itself, supported by vivid orchestration in the composer's research into sonic possibilities.

On the more recent of these releases is the cello concerto arc-en-cello, premiered in 2003. Malec exploits the extremes of register, dynamics and speed, with the orchestra "envisioned as an extension of the cello".

It is coupled with a major cantata epistola, a fervent Latin setting (which brings to mind late Stravinsky) for solo voices, chorus and large orchestra of the Croation poet Marko Marulic's graphic letter to Pope Adrian VI, seeking his help to resist the invading Turks in 1522 and to stop "Christians fighting fellow Christians"...

It is a harrowing indictment of the horrors of war and a powerful prayer for peace; not easy to follow in detail because of the vocal complexities, but aided by time-checks supplied against each paragraph.

Both these discs are superbly recorded and presented with loving care, and multilingual texts; though I do wish that for analytic commentary timpani had turned once again to Harry Halbreich, who had provided such superb notes for their collections of Honegger, Boulanger and Ohana.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Do read in Music Web the full appreciation of the earlier, orchestral disc by Hubert Culot, their most reliable commentator on contemporary music.