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Mestrovic: 3 Rhapsodies for Piano & Orchestra
By Alan Kanski

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By Alan Kanski, Bai Yu, Dani Bosnjak, Li Xinxing, Marjan Krajna, Matej Mestrovic, Svetlana Krajna, Tu Shan Xiang, Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, and Zhang Pei. By Matej Mestrovic. Classical, Contemporary Era. Classical. Listening CD. Navona Records #NV6219. Published by Navona Records (NX.NV6219).

Item Number: NX.NV6219

Conducted by Miran Vaupotic.

It is tempting to compare Matej Mestrovic's compositional style to his great predecessors in the late-Romantic tradition. After all, much of the Croatian composer's style and techniques would be right at home in Rachmaninoff's concertos, Tchaikovsky's works, or Prokofiev's neoclassicism; and the name of the album's first work, Danube Rhapsody, naturally evokes associations with Smetana's similarly river-themed Vltava. Add to all of this that Mestrovic, like most of his great musical ancestors, is a talented virtuoso pianist, and it's easy to see why 3 Rhapsodies is bound to meet with enthusiasm. Of course, a skillful composer like Mestrovic doesn't confine himself to mere epigonism. And indeed, there is an original voice which constantly rises out from tradition. This is partially achieved through Mestrovic's clever instrumentation: the Danube Rhapsody's scoring includes, among others, a cimbalom and a tamburitza (the Croatian long-necked lute), which immediately tells the listener that he or she is hearing the Balkans, not Russia or Czechia. Similarly, the Chinese Rhapsody employs traditional Chinese instruments such as the pipa, erhu, and zheng, gorgeously contrasting them against the tremolo strings of the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra. American East Coast natives will find themselves swept back home in Mestrovic's New England Rhapsody, a composition initially as comforting and sentimentally heart-warming as the Transatlantic accent in a 1940's film. It's a deceptive respite, however: the final movement, interspersed with jazzy rhythmic elements and Mestrovic's resurfacing Croatian voice, takes the listener right back to the exalting ardor of the album's beginning. Instead of fizzling out like lesser compositions might, it finishes with a bang. There is no way around it: 3 Rhapsodies is a triumph. It is not at all unlikely that future generations, when asked to name the first famous Croatian composer that comes to mind, will exclaim with conviction: ""Mestrovic, of course!"".

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