1. Credo for 4 voices and string quartet 06:55
2. Misericordia for choir and chamber orchestra 13:53
3. Mysterium for string orchestra 05:09
4. Ave Maria for 4 voices and string quartet 07:27
5, Boh je – vidieť znova zázrak for choir and chamber orchestra 15:20
6, The Mystery for tenor and string orchestra 04:58
7. Signum Magnum for soprano, bass-baritone and string orchestra 05:10
Hilda Gulyás, soprano
Petra Noskaiová, alto
Juraj Kuchar, tenor
Tomáš Šelc, bass-baritone
Chamber orchestra Zoe
Ondrej Olos, conductor
This recording won the title ALBUM OF THE YEAR in the Radio Head Awards competition in the Classical Music category.
Preparing a Feast for Loved Ones…
There are composers that put the living of their faith directly into their music: their language of expression makes do with that which tradition has devised; it is placid, explicit in articulating itself, and takes as its tools tried and true resources and forms borne out by tradition. And then there are composers for whom the link between living their faith and their output is far more complex, their means of expression are much more animated, and they do not despair to thorough knowledge of the peripetia the music has undergone over the past century; their forms take on more intricacy, and always come about afresh, in keeping with the character and needs of each new piece. The result may not be music ambitious of a wide public’s immediate and unambiguous acceptance, but for all that it may far surpass the dimensions of “usefulness”, and find itself equally at home in sacred space and the concert stage – without necessarily leaving an impression of triviality, but instead pleasing by its autonomous aesthetic quality.
Lukáš Borzík certainly is an example of the second group. The gift of faith is, so to say, the central motif of which his music speaks a thousand different ways. It permeates alike the vocal pieces that put to music biblical quotations or liturgical lyrics, or poetic texts essentially coupled with the phenomenon of faith, or purely instrumental works – from small sketches to great symphonic frescoes. And behind it all, in every last case, stands a tenacious quest for just the right material of expression and for a distinct and apt form. Of course he does not make this quest in a vacuum; he’s well-informed of current developments in the world of music. He follows personalities who have become classics of the end of the last century – Pärt, Górecki, Kančeli, and Messiaen, as well as Feldman, Ligeti, Sciarrino, Gubaidulina, Schnittke, and Tavener (and we might continue backwards tracing a line to Stravinsky, Debussy and the old masters) – but in the next breath we must add that their shadow is a mere point of departure (or to put it better a catalyst) for more seeking and then finding of his own self. In other words, this is a path to truth, at the very least in a purely aesthetic sense.
For Lukáš this quest has taken many and varied forms. I see this less as a lack of aesthetic definition than in uncommon openness, scope and capacity to accept without prejudice, and creatively reconvert stimuli from various places. This is not eclecticism, but rather a naturally curious person able to glimpse beauty even in the most diverse artistic expression and to draw inspiration from it. To this testifies Lukáš’ first profile album Cantico delle Creature, which the Hudobný fond - Music Fund Slovakia put out in 2011. In it, he clothed different lyrics of different languages in minutely processed chamber music, in keeping with the “needs” of each piece.
There is a unity in the diversity, both in terms of the ideas (celebrating the miracle of creation…) and in the authorship, which while concentrated on details betrays no ego showing off ostentatious virtuosity.
However, a few years later Lukáš’ development as a composer took a new direction, which after Cantico delle Creature few, or even he, would have expected. Over several years – in the middle of nowhere – a whole series of large-scale works for large orchestras appeared, some with and some without solo instruments or voices. This was an unadulterated adventure under conditions in Slovakia, but now we can say it was fruitful. Setting aside the older “orchestral” Clarissima, (and even this he reworked a year after the profile album), these included the grand orchestral Annuntiatio, the concerto for violin and orchestra Slovo [Word], the symphony for soprano, violin and orchestra Svetlo Slova [Light of the Word], Proglas for choir and orchestra, and his newest triptych of concertos for cello, piano and violin: Jeho Meno [His Name], Jeho Hlas [His Voice] and Jeho Tvár [His Face]. This was an explosion of orchestral tones unparalleled in Lukáš’ work, with intoxicating colour, a veritable feast, an invitation to a sensory revel in the magnificence of orchestral sound. The orchestrating technique’s brilliant virtuosity is literally wondrous, and without hyperbole we can say it brought quite a new quality to Slovakia’s music.
And now we come to Signum magnum. At first glance, this seems a turn away from orchestral opulence to the temperate “monochromatic” sound of a string orchestra (with two small exceptions in a pair of flutes and an oboe), to absolute focus on work with text and an almost ascetic austerity in both material and means of expression. Yet the truth is that these are in fact chronologically older compositions, which over time underwent various mutations, particularly with regard to the instruments and voices employed. This was not for a lack of clarity in the composer’s aim, but rather for simply practical reasons, always contingent on the interpretational resources available at the time. This time, thanks in part to the ZOE chamber orchestra and ZOE choir, it took on a form in which it can be put forward as a single project, with logical presentation that has its inner contrasts but remains unified in its idea.
Once more, the relationship of music to text is at the forefront. This can be called an ideal symbiosis; the music grows quite organically from the rhythm in the text, obligingly yielding to it in constant changes of metre, and yet nowhere is this forced. The music repeatedly illustrates the meaning in the lyrics, as has ever held true in Europe’s setting of liturgy to music; it underlines drama or, as the case may be, of profound peace, but throughout exists fully in its own right, speaking to the listener with expressive force even without the aid of words. The most obvious example is the paired Mysterium/The Mystery, a meditation on the exquisite poem by Lukáš’ favourite G. K. Chesterton, which is equally powerful as a tenor “aria” and a purely instrumental piece.
Again in the composer’s three mutually digressive personal professions faith, much attention is given this organic bond of word and music: Credo is an “objectivized”, liturgical form of confession rigorously using the given Latin text; likewise Ave Maria, though it has a far more intimate character, and an outstanding melodic invention, evidenced in Lukáš’ personal captivation with this theme, penetrates symbolically as in the thematically similar orchestral Annuntiatio; and the third part, the deeply dramatic Boh je… [God is…], to words from the pastor and writer Daniel Pastirčák. In all three cases, the music – hand in hand with the lyrics – finds its own unique forms and its own way of communicating. If Pastirčák’s musing on God’s relationship to man is the album’s dramatic climax (it is fascinating how two different layers of music interpenetrate – one a limpid diatonic of held tones, the other a downward-developing chromatic line evoking the “Cross motif”), then its opposite pole is perhaps the balanced and almost static solemnity in Signum magnum, drawing from the last book of the New Testament. Yet here too the music expresses wonder at the heavenly world breaking through into the earthly, albeit in silence and a humility rooted in trust – altogether different from the Revelation theophany as Lukáš rendered it in Annuntiatio.
The album’s intellectual centre is Misericordia, which I take as Lukáš’ articulation of gratitude to the Maker of all things. Eternity and mercy are inevitably tied, and the music expresses this through two extremely contrasting positions. The first is a confluence of voice in almost “frozen” musical time, and the second a strenuous movement of vocal canons driven forward by a mesh of instrumental runs and patterns (the string and wind instruments creating two separate, mutually complementary layers), interrupted by grand pauses, and then resuming one level higher dynamically and harmonically. Both of them perfectly capture the phenomenon of eternity, and both of them grow from the same musical material; and the composer is not far from the truth when he speaks of a sonata form with a tacit contrasting thought. Yet once again the form is unique. This is a sonata in a more metaphorical sense, and rather in the way the motif links are interrelated. In this sense, what dominates is the unity that has accompanied European composition at least from the time of Franco-Flemish polyphonics; however a firm compositional principle is constantly, discreetly “working under the surface”, never distracting the listener from appreciating this joyous dance hailing the marvel of creation.
Lukáš Borzík states that the purpose of music is outside of music, that music for him represents “a means of expressing mutual love and respect”, and this is absolutely relevant to these seven compositions. “If I’m working, then just as I prepare a feast for loved ones, there is order and beauty in it that will be of benefit to the wider society.” There is no more to add than to note that such consideration for mutual communication with the public is rarely so palpably present, and it need not compel the choice of artless and trivial means of communication.
So the feast is ready, all we have to do is accept the invitation, and with an open mind to listen…
Translated by Michael Frontczak
Recording location: Veľký Evanjelický kostol, Panenská 28, Bratislava, Slovenská republika
Recordings: Signum Magnum, Mysterium and The Mystery on March 4, 2020; Credo and Ave Maria
on March 6, 2020; Boh je – vidieť znova zázrak and Misericordia on March 7, 2020
Sound direction & technical support: Martin & Rostislav Pavlík
Recorded in high defi nition format (352.8 kHz / 32 bit)
Stereo and 5 channel acoustic version in DXD format available at pavlikrecords.sk
Recording producer: Lukáš Borzík
Photos: Veronika Klimonová
Graphic design: Eva Turčáková
Supported using public funding by Slovak Arts Council