Vteřiny křehké, or Fragile Seconds, is a heartfelt and delicate folk album from Hradišťan and their artistic director Jiří Pavlica, mainstays on the Czech arts scene since 1978. At times their concepts are presented solely as musical experiences, but in the past they’ve also included live dance components with bespoke choreography.
Oscillating between heart-breaking and joyful, the album boasts fifteen songs using poems from several authors, selected for their reference to differing stages of the human condition. While the songs differ in the emotions they evoke, they nonetheless present a unified whole. Pavlica has spoken of the album as an integral unit, and warned that when individual songs are heard out of context – on the radio, say – they end up seeming scattered and strangely incomplete.
While at first listen the album seems like fifteen separate vignettes, subsequent plays reveal there are indeed repeated patterns. Bridges reappear on different tracks, and the lyrics of songs sometimes overlap, calling back to each other. Birth, temptation, death, and above all love are presented as a fleeting collection of moments then reframed through memory. This remembering, and the refractions inherent within it, is offered as the only way of keeping these moments alive despite its – and their – inherent fragility.
The instrumentation on the album is as varied as the poetry, and at different times the audience is treated, among other things, to piano, recorder, organ, oboe, pennywhistle, and notably a jaw harp. The diversity across styles and instruments helps to underscore the idea of fluctuation and transience. It’s this that makes the album particularly listenable to, as it caters to almost any mood.
While 14 of the 15 songs on the album are in Czech, English speaking audiences are offered ‘A Second of Temptation’ which dwells on the yearning and intrigue of new experiences, as well as the simultaneous possibility that the sweetness offered within them may over time turn bitter. This is followed by the solemn ‘So here is was’ (Tak tady byl), its sinuous dark piano summoning up moments of darker reflection. The combination of songs reminds listeners that options exercised or denied can lead over time to a lingering discontent.
While these tracks seem intensely personal, those arranged for the chorus like ‘I go, you go, we all go’ (Jdu ja, jdeš ty, všichni jdem) bring home the universality of the themes. We will all experience, birth, joy, disappointment, love, and death. It’s the ways we remember and even celebrate this fact that make the human experience possible. In the album’s last track ‘When you’re afraid’ (Až se budeš bát) the collective experience of the memories is driven home, the chorus reminding listeners they’re just a few of the many going through the same fluctuations.
Anyone drawn to composition or the sound of lesser-used instruments – those who enjoyed Paul Simon’s ‘world music’ for instance – will relish this album. Aficionados of recent lyric-driven folk artists like Ireland’s ‘Villagers’ will recognise the melancholy sweetness throughout – as well as a distinct and lyrical callback. Fans of folk in general or those simply wishing to learn more about Czech music will find it an ideal way of sampling one of the Czech Republic’s most celebrated groups.
Vteřiny křehké is notable for its cohesive vision. Yet it’s the accessible nature of that vision and its immediacy that makes the album both memorable and moving.
Hradišťan’s Vteřiny křehké is available from iTunes at 8.99 €.