Novák: 24 Preludes & Fugues

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COMPOSERS: Novak
LABELS: Champs Hill
WORKS: 24 Preludes & Fugues
PERFORMER: William Howard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHRCD 016

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Now in his fifties, Pavel Zemek Novák is little known in this country but has garnered praise from some who regard him as perhaps the most important living composer in the Czech Republic. His extraordinary 24 Preludes and Fugues (1989-2006), cast in four books, is one of those works that practically redefines its genre. The composer is frank about his religious inspiration, with Books Nos 1-2 drawing on the Old Testament and 3-4 on the New. Here, fugue crystallises and congeals into uncanny formations. Fugue Six runs to seven notes, one of them the fugue subject.

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Yet it’s a work of tremendous virtuosity and drastic extremes of dynamic and register that expands to absorb a wealth of styles. Prelude Ten is a very beautiful set of variations on a theme from Mendelssohn’s Elijah; there are numerous hints of Balinese gamelan; Book Three’s bright filigree webs might almost be by Tippett. That hardly begins to suggest the range and fascination of this unique work, which David Matthews in the booklet likens in importance to Ligeti’s Etudes. Superb performance and stunning sound: a real discovery. Calum MacDonald