Vladimir Godar, Mater (ECM).
In the course of writing the notes for George Mraz’s forthcoming CD Moravian Gems, I made the aural acquaintance of the Czech singer, violinist and actress Iva Bittová and was enchanted by her. Mraz informed me that the composer Vladimír Godár, inspired by Bittová’s talent, wrote a mass for her. I acquired the CD of the work and have been listening to it over several weeks.
Bittová’s singing and Godár’s writing not only held up through all of those playings, but with repeated hearings the music took on greater depth and profundity. Bittová, the small string ensemble and Dušan Bill’s Bratislava Conservatory Choir under conductor Marek Štryncl are moving in the pieces that precede the “Stabat Mater,” their serenity interrupted only by expressionist instrumental stabs in the “Magnificat.” Godár’s “Ecce Puer,” based on the James Joyce poem (Of the dark past/A child was born;/With joy and grief/My heart is torn), has Bittová floating ethereally between string passages.
In an ECM news release, Godár says, “Only when I got to know Iva, her musical intuition, energy and discipline, did I feel able to write a Stabat Mater for her. Her singing is pure and full of emotion and her articulation is just perfect.” A prominent figure in Czech culture, Bittová is best known as a singer of Moravian folk music, Janáček, and popular songs. Once you have heard her, you will not confuse her with what pop singing has come to mean in the United States. Her voice is deceptively light and the articulation that Godár admires is virtually free of vibrato, but when Bittová does apply it in the “Stabat Mater,” her notes bloom with color an operatic soprano would be pleased to achieve. The joy of her expression in the “Regina Coeli,” with its rhythmic displacement of “alleluia,” is priceless. She is exquisite in passages teaming her with solo violinist Miloš Valent.
To people primarily interested in jazz, all of this may seem far afield. I can only refer you to the standard observed by Duke Ellington, who said, “There are two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.” Mater is good, and Bittová is addictive.
For video of Bittová performing two Janáček songs with the Stampa Quartet, go here.