Janacek - Piano Works
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Cat No: SU42662
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 31st May 2019
WorksA Recollection, JWVIII/32
In the Mists
On an Overgrown Path, JWVIII/17
Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 in E flat minor, JWVIII/19 'From the Street'
Tema con variazioni (Zdenka's Variations)
ArtistsJan Bartos (piano)
1Piano Sonata No. 1 in E-Flat Minor: I. The Presentiment. Con moto
2Piano Sonata No. 1 in E-Flat Minor: II. Death. Adagio
3On an Overgrown Path: No. 1, Our Evenings. Moderato - Tenderly
4On an Overgrown Path: No. 2, A Blow Away Leaf. Andante
5On an Overgrown Path: No. 3, Come with Us! Andante
6On an Overgrown Path: No. 4, The Frydek Madonna. Grave
7On an Overgrown Path: No. 5, They Chattered Like Swallows. Con moto
8On an Overgrown Path: No. 6, Words Fail! Andante
9On an Overgrown Path: No. 7, Good Night! Andante
10On an Overgrown Path: No. 8, Unutterable Anguish. Andante
11On an Overgrown Path: No. 9, In Tears. Larghetto
12On an Overgrown Path: No. 10, The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away! Andante
13On an Overgrown Path: No. 11, Andante
14On an Overgrown Path: No. 12, Allegretto - Presto
15In the Mists: No. 1, Andante
16In the Mists: No. 2, Molto adagio
17In the Mists: No. 3, Andantino
18In the Mists: No. 4, Presto. Meno mosso
19Thema con variazioni
20Reminiscence. Con moto
Remarkably for a composer who started out with serious ambitions as a concert pianist, Janáček wrote relatively little solo music for the instrument, the majority of it in the years 1900-1912. This was a time of personal tragedy and professional struggle, with the illness and death of his daughter Olga, and a battle for the recognition of his third opera, Jenůfa, and for the premiere of his fourth, Osud (‘Fate’), which was never performed in his lifetime. The inner turmoil surfaces in his two piano cycles, but it was in response to a very public event that Janáček composed the work with which Bartoš opens the disc, 1.X.1905 ‘On the Street’.
At the beginning of October 1905 the campaign to establish a Czech university in Brno, bitterly opposed by the city’s German-speaking majority, came to a head with a demonstration and counter-demonstration. During these events, a young Czech worker was bayoneted to death by a soldier, and it was this event that Janáček responded to in the piece, not the only work of his with a social message, but certainly the most striking. Originally a three-movement work, the concluding funeral march was destroyed by the composer before the Brno premiere; later, after a private performance in Prague, he hurled the manuscript of the two remaining movements into the river Vltava. It is only thanks to the copy kept by the work’s first performer, Ludmila Tučková, that those two movements survived and were eventually published. Sometimes referred to as a ‘Piano Sonata’, 1.X.1905 is one of Janáček’s boldest and most searingly intense works, and Bartoš unerringly captures its painful immediacy with playing of thrilling earthiness combined with a formidable technique.
The cycle of piano miniatures On an Overgrown Path originated in a request for folk-tunes set for harmonium, but the work soon took on a life of its own. The first ‘series’ of ten pieces was written between 1901 and 1908, each bearing a descriptive title that hints both at a folk background and a journey of inner turmoil. Some are, on the surface at least, cheerful in mood, like the fifth piece ‘They chattered like swallows’ (the chattering deftly evoked here by Bartoš), while others, like no.6 ‘Words fail’ and no.8 ‘Unutterable anguish’, clearly reflect the personal tragedy of these years. Bartoš is in his element in all these pieces: just listen to the way he places the opening of no.3 ‘Come with us!’ to give it a dance-like lilt. Naturalistic effects like the hooting of the owl in no.10 have an almost improvisatory air to them. Of the second series (1911), Bartoš demonstrates excellent judgement in only performing the two pieces completed by Janáček, an Andante and an Allegretto; he leaves out both the incomplete third and a further two pieces subsequently appended to the collection by over-enthusiastic editors.
For many, the peak of Janáček’s solo piano music is the four-movement cycle In the Mists (1912), a combination of his own inimitable mature style with echoes of impressionism (Debussy was a composer he much admired). Once again, Bartoš nails the music’s essence: a combination of dreamy reflectiveness and earthy passion, infused with folk-like layered textures that may be fundamentally unpianistic but sound entirely natural at his hands. And again his feeling for unaffected rubato gives moments like the opening of the fourth movement Presto an improvisational freshness that is immediately engaging.
Following the charmingly virtuosic (and immaculately crafted) Thema con variazioni of 1880 (an engagement present to Janáček’s fiancée, and later long-suffering wife, Zdenka), Bartoš ends this compelling disc with the composer’s last piano piece, the haunting Reminiscence of 1928, which seems to distill the essence of his late style (with shades of Káťa Kabanová also hovering about). Excellently recorded by the Supraphon team, and with an exceptionally interesting booklet interview between Bartoš and leading Janáček expert Jiří Zahrádka, this is a disc that deserves to be in any serious Janáček collection, for it just about sweeps the board in this music. And it should be heard by anyone interested in 20th-century piano music, Czech music, or just music per se!
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