The works on this disc show three different sides of Karel Husa. The Divertimento, written in 1958, is a light, charming piece of Neoclassicism in four brief movements. The more expansive Fantasies for Orchestra from 1956 is one of the composer's finest works, virtually a three-movement symphony. The opening movement brings to mind Bartók, especially in the slow, constantly building passage for strings that occupies its first half. The second movement is an exhilarating dance, based on a two-plus-three rhythm that suggests Eastern European folk music. The Finale is called "Nocturne," and there are once again suggestions of Bartók -- the connections to the latter's night music are obvious -- but far less tense and a bit more lyrical. The scenes from "The Trojan Women" show again a different Husa, quite comfortable with orchestral and compositional techniques of the second half of the century. There are dissonant clusters, a huge percussion battery, and the use of microtones, all of which help to create a score of considerable tension and dramatic power. The piece demonstrates one of Husa's greatest talents, the ability to use effects often associated with more forbidding music in a manner that always remains accessible for the audience.
Anyway, the 1958 Divertimento for brass ensemble and percussion and the 1956 Fantasies for orchestra are not the most typical of their composer - or rather, they are typical of his earlier, not yet mature style. The short brass divertimento (11'), which comes in excellent sound, is couched in a rather anonymous, mildly modern and slightly bombastic "American" idiom; it could be, really, anybody's composition: Morton Gould, Persichetti, Copland, Virgil Thompson, you name it. The second movement, "Little Scherzo", betrays some Bartokian influence - but no more than anybody who'd have studied his scores in those years might have displayed, and as for the fourth movement, I had to read its title, "Slovak Dance", to realize that it was that rather than just any merry, boisterous stars-and-stripes finale.
The 20-minute long Fantasies are (very) moderately original in their construction, in that the fast movement (Capriccio) is framed by two slow ones (Aria and Nocturne), all played without interruption. The first movement then is a brooding aria, first uttered by the strings and rising to a climax then receding to its initial calmness. It is reminiscent of the opening of Bartok's Concerto for orchestra or the first movement of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. The Capriccio could be a Martinu piano concerto - but without the motoric drive so typical of Martinu. More original is the closing Nocturne, again starting softly and rising to a climax, but very subtly orchestrated, in an almost "pointillistic" manner, with a very colorful result. This movement alone - I believe in the same interpretation - had been published on a CRI LP which also had the 1st Symphony and Serenade, the two latter reissued on a now unavailable CRI CD without their filler (see my review). The sound is not as vivid as with the two other pieces, but one adjusts easily.
As their title implies (but you've got to go to the back cover for the full title), the Scenes from the ballet "The Trojan Women" are not the 44-minute complete ballet but a 28 minute suite drawn from it. The complete work is featured on a First Edition CD with the Louisville Orchestra under Akira Endo, which I have reviewed (Karel Husa: Two Sonnets from Michelangelo / The Trojan Women). The composer-led Brno orchestra sounds more raw and gruff-colored, with more prominent percussion, than Louisville under Endo - which adds much ominous power in the more violent numbers, like Cassandra's dance (track 9) or The Death of Astyanax (track 11), but at the cost of some refinement, as in the upward scale that ends the prologue (track 8). Hecuba's lullaby to her slaughtered grandson Astyanax (track 10) comes out very well, thanks to the cruder sound of the bamboo flute over bells, making it sound - rather inappropriately to the historical subject but nonetheless interestingly musically - like "Chinese" music. In Louisville the flute was hardly distinguishable from a normal flute, but again the string glissandos were more refined and eerie. The sometimes very descriptive and plot-bound nature of the complete ballet is not so much in evidence in the Scenes, which sound more like Husa's more "abstract" compositions.
Still, given that neither the Divertimento nor the Fantasies showcases Husa at his most mature and personal, and that the complete ballet can be found elsewhere and is a preferable representation of the composer, this CD is perhaps not the best introduction to the music of Karel Husa.