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 BittovÃ¡ and was enchanted by her. Mraz informed me that the composer VladimÃr GodÃ¡r, inspired by BittovÃ¡’s talent, wrote a mass for her. I acquired the CD of the work and have been listening to it over several weeks.
BittovÃ¡’s singing and GodÃ¡r’s writing not only held up through all of those playings, but with repeated hearings the music took on greater depth and profundity. BittovÃ¡, the small string ensemble and DuÅ¡an Bill’s Bratislava Conservatory Choir under conductor Marek Å tryncl are moving in the pieces that precede the “Stabat Mater,” their serenity interrupted only by expressionist instrumental stabs in the “Magnificat.” GodÃ¡r’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 BittovÃ¡ floating ethereally between string passages.
In an ECM news release, GodÃ¡r 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, BittovÃ¡ is best known as a singer of Moravian folk music, JanÃ¡Äek, 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 GodÃ¡r admires is virtually free of vibrato, but when BittovÃ¡ 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 MiloÅ¡ 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 BittovÃ¡ is addictive.
For video of BittovÃ¡ performing two JanÃ¡Äek songs with the Stampa Quartet, go here.