> Janacek piano works Klansky [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
On an Overgrown Path
Zdenka Variations

Ivan Klánsky (piano)
Recorded 8-11 September 1980, Domovina Studio, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU 3287 2 111 [52.17]


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It is a tribute to Janáček's genius that we always think of him as a 20th century composer. In fact he was aged 46 when the new century began, but of course he continued to develop and the majority of his compositions of lasting value were written in the final phase of his life.

The series of short piano pieces gathered together under the title On an Overgrown Path date from soon after the turn of the century. Janáček was therefore around fifty years old, and an experienced composer; but he was neither famous nor had he reached the height of his powers.

The collection contains fifteen short pieces collected in two books, of ten and five respectively, the first having associative titles but the second not. The actual dates of composition are relatively hard to track down, and the music was probably created throughout the first decade of the century. The sources of inspiration, which are indicated in the first set, are linked to Moravian customs and traditions, and there is a certain nostalgia and concern with images of fate.

Ivan Klánsky is a fine pianist, though he has not developed an international profile as successfully as some of his compatriots. As ever the Supraphon recording puts atmosphere high on the agenda, at the expense of a certain clarity, a feature which is at issue occasionally in the faster numbers.

Some of the music is deeply felt, and here Klánsky is a sensitive and reliable performer. For example, the last three pieces in Set 1 were composed during the period following the tragic death of the composer's daughter Olga, when he also suffered the frustration of failing to get his opera Jenufa performed in Prague. No wonder they include titles such as 'Unutterable Anguish' and 'In Tears'. Klánsky performs this music with real conviction.

As with all music based on programmatic associations, On an Overgrown Path must still stand or fall on its purely musical merits. Perhaps Janáček himself realised this, when he produced a second set of pieces, similar in approach but without titles. These were only published posthumously in 1942. Four of these movements contain faster music, though not entirely, and the challenge to player's dexterity is palpable. Klánsky responds enthusiastically to the challenge, though the ample acoustic does not necessarily operate in his favour, as in the final number at tempo Vivo (TRACK 15: 0.00).

The disc plays for just over fifty minutes, giving cause for regret that no extra music, such as the fine Sonata, was added for this reissue. There is one bonus item, admittedly, a rarity in variation form called Zdenka Variations, though on the CD listing the impression is given that this is the final item of the second series from On an Overgrown Path. The Variations were inspired by Janáček's fiancée Zdenka Schulzov, and composed when he was a student at the Leipzig Conservatory. He evidently liked what he had achieved, since he insisted that on publication it became his Opus 1. The music, including the theme, is both direct and appealing (TRACK 16: 0.00), though it is hardly a substantial contribution to the literature of piano music.

Terry Barfoot


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