Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Marián Varga and Fedor Frešo had previously played in Bratislava's premier flower-power pop band Prúdy, along with Pavol Hammel.

Marián Varga's musical concept for Collegium Musicum had some common ground with the classical rock of Procol Harum, Moody Blues, The Nice and Deep Purple's Concerto For Group & Orchestra. An EP named "Hommage a J. S. Bach" (on Panton) became their 1970 recordingdebut. Their first album (recorded in October 1970) also incorporated elements of jazz, blues and beat in a manner similar to Colosseum circa 1969 (and also had some brass arrangements). Marián Varga's organ was the principal instrument, playing motifs mostly derived from classical music. In addition to two of Varga's compositions (both more than 13 minutes in length) they also included a version of Haydn's "Concerto In D" with a string orchestra.

Konvergencie was released before the end of 1971, a double album with only one track each side. "P. F. 1972" showcased Marián Varga's distinctive organ style, sometimes in dialogue with ace guitarist František Griglák, soon to form Fermáta, the Slovakian equivalent of Mahavishnu Orchestra or Iceberg. The track was divided into several interrelated sections, including one sung by a children's choir. "Suita Po Tisíc A Jednej Noci" (The Thousand And One Night Suite) was a free interpretation of themes from Rimsky-Korsakov's famous "Scheher-azade" performed live with a lot of extended organ and guitar solos. "Piesne Z Kolovratu" was a suite of small songs inspired by Czechoslovakian folk music and with lyrics written by the poet Kamil Peteraj. They have a soft and romantic feel and are blended together by elegant musical ornaments. Those who enjoy this track should check out the first Prúdy-album (from 1969) and the later collaborations with Pavol Hammel. "Eufónia" was a more experimental track with Varga squeezing out even stranger noises from his organ than Mike Ratledge had done before him.

When Griglák left Collegium Musicum, the others made an album with Pavol Hammel. He had been singer and guitarist of the beat-pop group Prúdy of which Marián Varga had also been a member. Zelená Pošta (1972) was credited only to Hammel and Varga, but was very much a group effort with Fedor Frešo handling production. This is another collection of short songs connected to a suite, and again with lyrics by Kamil Peteraj.

Collegium Musicum's next move was a superb live album recorded by the powerhouse trio of Varga, Freso and Hájek. The 1975 album was also partly recorded live, this time adding a guitar player again. These two albums display the group closest to the classical rock idiom with free interpretations of themes by Bartok and Prokofiev, but mostly original compositions and crafty improvisations. Within this field, few others have done it better!

For the next two years, Varga and company made two more albums with with Pavol Hammel, Kamil Peteraj and others. Na Druhom Programe Sna (1976) featured noted guitarist Radim Hladík and is an excellent cycle of 13 songs, interspersed with the characteristic Collegium Musicum instrumental framework. This is just as good as their "own" albums. Cyrano Z Predmesta (1978) was a kind of pop opera with two female and two male singers, strings and brass. Some instrumental segments are good but the vocals are too close to pop music.

1978 also saw the release of a new album credited to Collegium Musicum (with long time member Fedor Frešo returning from Modrý Kfekt). Continuo was an attempt to renew their old formula using the latest synthesizer technology. Varga played long, experimental solo parts (trustworthy old themes but played in strangely bended keys), alternating with more steady rock rhythms and vocals. Two tracks went beyond 16 minutes but are in many ways overshadowed by their previous attempts. Still this is quite a good album.

On A Ona (1979) had a much stronger orientation towards conventional rock than its predecessor and lacked a bit of distinction. It contained nine tracks in all and a couple of them are still quite good.

Ten years after Konvergencie, Varga concluded the Collegium Musicum years with another double album named Divergencie (1981). This was, similarly, a work in four main parts (the separation created by old vinyl albums could be an advantage). While this skeleton was very much the same, the musical fleshing was more indicative of Varga's recent efforts. The eminent guitar player Luboš Andršt graced the jazz-rock side "Refrény". Old partner Pavol Hammel was once again the featured vocalist on this and "P. F. (1982. 1983...)", a sweet attempt to combine pop, folk music and progressive rock with orchestra and choir. "Musica Concertante" was a more serious and academic composition (mainly for symphony orchestra) written by Varga in collaboration with Vojtech Magyar. This was a remarkably successful fusion of classical and rock music, sounding like a revision of Martinu's symphonies. Parts of "Sadza Do Obálky" (a new song cycle by Varga and Peteraj) represented the most song-oriented and ordinary material. Overall, this was one of the best Collegium Musicum albums, totally different from the EL&P-oriented material of the mid-seventies. Varga's solo album Stále Tie Dni (1984) was certainly different too, with experimental compositions (including a 20-minute war requiem) centered around synthesizers and vocoders. Marián Varga's group was undoubtedly the leading progressive rock band from Bratislava.

Tracks :

01. Domáca úloha (M. Varga)
02. Z ďatelín (M. Varga - K. Peteraj)
03. Tenis (M. Varga - K. Peteraj)
04. Smutná ranná električka (M. Varga - M. Válek)
05. Krajina bielych dievčat (P. Hammel - K. Peteraj)
06. Páví ples (M. Varga, P. Hammel - B. Filan)
07. Cesty bláznov (M. Varga - B. Filan)
08. Nechtiac (M. Varga - B. Filan)
09. Slnečnice (M. Varga - K. Peteraj)
10. Pošta (M. Varga, P. Hammel - K. Peteraj)

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