LEOS JANACEK: Piano Works Vol. 1 = Sonata 1.X.1905; On an overgrown path I & II; Reminiscence; In the Mist – Slavka Pechocova, piano – Praga Digitals

by | Sep 14, 2010 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

LEOS JANACEK: Piano Works Vol. 1 = Sonata 1.X.1905; On an overgrown path I & II; Reminiscence; In the Mist – Slavka Pechocova, piano – Praga Digitals multichannel SACD PRD/DSD 250 266, 77:33 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

Janacek created a highly original operatic and instrumental style thru his research into Moravian and other Slavic folk music.  His research in the folk area was similar to what Bartok and Kodaly were to do a bit later. Though his early works showed the influence of Dvorak and others, his synthesis of elements later gave him access to the world’s great opera stages, creating unique vocal melodies assimilating the inflections, contours and rhythms of Czech speech.

This “speech tunes” concept can also be felt in some of Janacek’s instrumental and chamber music. Some even feel they can “hear words” in the composer’s piano music. Another unique quality of his music is Janacek’s way of often moving it along with short unfinished phrases which are constant repetitions of short motifs, gaining momentum in a cumulative manner. Sir Charles Mackerras even called Janacek the first minimalist composer. Then there is his expanded view of tonality; though he said “Folksong knows no atonality.”

All these features are heard in the fascinating piano music of Janacek, which will take two CDs to cover, of which this is the first. They exhibit much variety within his individual style, so even hearing the entire disc at one sitting does not seem repetitive. The opening movement of the two-movement Piano Sonata adds a very expanded tonality plus a mystical, ecstatic quality that almost sounds like late Scriabin. The second movement, Death, is strange, haunting and its lamenting character does approach minimalism. Janacek threw the manuscript in the Moldau, but fortunately the female pianist who first had performed it had retained a copy.

The various short pieces of On an overgrown path make up an over three-quarters-of-an-hour suite which deal with rediscovered feelings and memories. The 1912 four-piece cycle In the Mist is one of the composer’s finest. Again, it has a very strange and disconcerting quality.  The opening Andante has a folk-sounding chorale, and its harmony sounds akin to Debussy. The second piece – molto adagio – is a nearly five-minute masterpiece – unsettling tonally, and with moments of near fright. It almost sounds like the piano reduction of a score for a very artistic horror film.

Pechocova, who studied with Ivan Moravec, delivers these works with great precision and feeling, conveying the dreamlike quality of many of them. Praga’s 5.0 surround portrays the piano realistically and with great dynamic range. Can’t wait for Volume Two of the set.

 – John Sunier

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