Matej Meštrović: 3 Rhapsodies for Piano and Orchestra. © 2019 Navona Records LLC

CD Spotlight

Freshness and Imagination

Rhapsodies for Piano and Orchestra by Matej Meštrović,

'... lovers of music that is tuneful and that does not require deep thought will really enjoy this disc.'


I was itching to hear something different, so I chose this disc by a Croatian composer that I had not heard of before. Matej Meštrović, born in 1969, is an important figure in his native country and has somewhat of a following worldwide. Whilst I appreciate his skill here both as composer and pianist, I found that it trod well-established paths, but with repeated listenings I got to like this CD.

The first and longest work here, in four movements, is called Danube Rhapsody. In addition to a standard orchestra, here the Zagreb Philharmonic with conductor Miran Vaupotić, the composer also calls on the accordion (played by Marjan Krajna), tambura (Svetlana Krajna), cymbalom (Alan Kanski) and fife (Dani Bošnjak), to provide extra colour and reflect the sounds that one may hear travelling down this river which flows through ten different countries.

The first movement, 'Birth of a River', starts boldly and energetically. The piano is treated as an orchestral rather than a solo instrument in the opening section, but then it has a solo cadenza which leads into a quieter section, after which it again recedes into the orchestral texture. After some moments in this section, the triumphant mood of the opening returns.

Listen — Matej Meštrović: Birth of a River (Danube Rhapsody)
(track 1, 4:01-4:40) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

The second movement, 'Danube Dance', begins with a nice little waltz, first on flute and strings, and then as an accordion solo, taken over by violin, in which woodwind adds flavour, as do the tambura and cymbalom. The piano then enters with a change of mood and metre before the full orchestra takes up the theme. I think the changes of mood reflect some of the national dances one may hear on one's journey down the river. The mood changes quite a few times, and this is a very effective piece.

Listen — Matej Meštrović: Danube Dance (Danube Rhapsody)
(track 2, 4:52-5:27) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

'Danube reflections', much more reflective, starts with low strings and clarinet. The oboe enters with a little melody over the orchestral chords, and this is quite lovely. Then the cymbalom takes up the theme, which the oboe expands on.

Listen — Matej Meštrović: Danube reflections (Danube Rhapsody)
(track 3, 1:38-2:26) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

'Danubius', the longest of the movements, begins with a rousing string section, and then the piano enters. This is a march, and perhaps reflects some of the military history of the area, where territories often had a bloodied past. Full orchestra, with trumpet and percussion, drive the music onwards. A lighter section for piano and clarinet is perhaps inspired by gypsy music. The oboe enters, and then the clarinet. This makes me think of Romania or the Black Sea region. All forces play very well, and there is quite a rollicking conclusion. Again the piano doesn't predominate, but is used as part of the orchestral colour, and occasionally comes to the fore with a solo passage, as in the longest section, about half way through this movement.

Listen — Matej Meštrović: Danubius (Danube Rhapsody)
(track 4, 5:27-6:07) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

The single movement Chinese Rhapsody was perhaps for me the most interesting. It employs some traditional Chinese instruments: pipa (played by Tu Shan Xiang), zheng (Zhang Pei) and erhu (Bai Yu), as well as Li Xinxing's conventional violin. The piano opens slightly ominously, followed by the tune, played by the ehru and pipa. The violin weaves through this as is develops and the zheng also has important passages. This work celebrates both Eastern and Western cultures, and I think most listeners will enjoy it. The piece is melodic and evocative, it ends with a grand flourish, and I like it very much. There is some very fine piano work here, revealing the composer as a fine pianist.

Listen — Matej Meštrović: Chinese Rhapsody
(track 5, 7:41-8:27) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

Lastly, New England Rhapsody is in three movements. The first, 'New England Vibe', is lively, energetic and optimistic, opening with tapping drums and piano. Eventually the full orchestra comes in. It is nothing deep and insightful, but music perhaps to reflect on simpler times, small town living and open air. After a brief pause, the opening tune returns with a feeling reminding me of a marching band. It doesn't last long, though, and the movement ends with a beautiful reflective section, which is basically the same tune scored for tuned percussion and muted strings.

The second movement, 'Poco a Poco', was written when the composer was nineteen, originally meant as the second movement of a piano concerto, but it was put aside for thirty years. It is quietly reflective and quite tender. The piano and strings compliment each other, and the whole thing is quite lush, with a soaring string line and little flourishes and runs on the piano.

'Fly over North Hampton', the last movement, is jaunty and exciting, with plenty of brass and bold strings. The piano often provides a rhythmic accompaniment here - a kind of ostinato. You can imagine a joy flight in a small plane, back in the days when flying was exciting. After a reflective and expansive middle section, the work returns to the original opening, with an accelerando to give the feeling of landing on terra firma.

Listen — Matej Meštrović: Fly over North Hampton (New England Rhapsody)
(track 8, 3:29-4:22) © 2019 Navona Records LLC :

This is one of those discs that I had to listen to three times. On the first hearing I found it very derivative and fairly firmly in a late nineteenth/early twentieth century tradition. I heard it one further time before I sat down with it a third time to review it, and I thought that this is well written music, plenty of tunes, and there was a freshness and imagination about it that I enjoyed. Certainly, lovers of music that is tuneful and that does not require deep thought will really enjoy this disc.

Copyright © 30 April 2019 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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