Washington's own Washington Musica Viva group presented a fascinating concert Thursday evening at the Embassy of the Czech Republic to showcase music by little-known composers born in Czechoslovakia: Vaclav Nelhybel, Bohuslav Martinu, and Jaroslav Jezek. Director Carl Banner played the piano as either a soloist or accompanist during each of the eight pieces presented, which included a totally unnecessary opening Mazurka by Antonin Dvorak. Banner's running commentary made clear his passion for Czech music.
Sitting in the audience were both the widow and a daughter of Vaclav Nelhybel, whose music is said to be of great interest to brass instrument players. Of the three Nelhybel pieces performed, the "Suite for Tuba and Piano" was the most interesting, and most accessible on first hearing. Tubist Blair Goins made a convincing case that the tuba has greater instrumental potential for solo intensities of sound than most composers allow room for. The sounds of the piano and tuba are so different in quality that the instruments can be counterpointed against each other, as they frequently were during this piece.
Bohuslav Martinu's "Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano" was overall the star of the first six pieces, reminiscent at times of Poulenc's saucy and knowing short pieces. This is a piece which has such obvious concert potential that it is difficult to understand why it seems so little known.
After an intermission, more members of Washington Musica Viva mounted the platform with their brass instruments for an inspired performance of "Jelly Roll" Morton's spectacular "Black Bottom Stomp." The audience could easily have locked the doors at this point and demanded that Washington Musica Viva perform three more hours of Morton's music.
But there was more to come, and the best had been saved for last. The "Five 'V + W' Songs" of Jaroslav Jezek would have been totally unknown to almost everyone in the audience except translator Dagmar White, who helped develop English texts for the five silly poems, and Washingtgon composer Maurice Saylor, who prepared the new arrangements for performance. Saylor spoke of the difficulties of marrying an English text to the music and said that he spent fully as much time on textual problems as he did on the actual arrangements.
Tenor Jeffery Peterson stole the show with his accomplished cabaret style as he tore through the rapid and subtly rhyming words of each song against a background of music written by a composer obviously influenced by American jazz of the 1920s and 1930s. At this point the audience did rebel and demand that Peterson repeat at least one of the songs; loud voices insisted the song must be "Tragedy in the Water," about a water leak in which an evil creature called a Nix erupts into the world and returns only after leaving behind a terrible water bill and a pregnant but abandoned chambermaid.
Stephen Neal Dennis