SMETANA (1824-1884) Dreams (c.1875)
Faded Happiness [4:49]
In Bohemia - a country tale [4:49]
In the Salon [4:22]
By the Castle [5:54]
Celebration of Czech country folk [4:59]
The Curious One - Transcription for solo piano (1858) of Der Neugierige (Inquisitive)
from Schubert's song cycle Die schöne Müllerin (c.1823) [4:52]
Concert Étude in C major (1858) [6:21]
On the Sea Shore - a memory (1861) [5:47]
Fantasia on Czech Folksongs (1862) [9:35] Czech Dances, Book 1
Polka in F sharp minor (1877) [2:50]
Polka in A minor (1877) [2:54] Czech Dances, Book 2
Hulán (1879) [5:56]
Kathryn Stott (piano)
rec. 18-20 October 2006, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, England.
Bedřich Smetana was one of the most
admired pianists of his day both as a soloist on the
concert platform and as an active chamber musician. Today
he is viewed mainly as a composer of operas and orchestral
works. The vast majority of his output is ignored as the
focus of attention almost exclusively falls on three masterworks
that he composed over a fertile thirteen year period. These
are the three act comic opera: The Bartered Bride (1866); Má vlast (My
Fatherland), a cycle of symphonic poems (c.1872-79) and
the String Quartet No.1 ‘From My Life’ (1876).
On this disc we start with the cycle of six pieces called Dreams.
This was composed around 1875. The first piece Faded Happiness is
steeped in Lisztian brilliance together with just a hint
of sadness. Consolation is a gentle ballad with a
central section of tension and anxiety and In Bohemia
- a country tale has the spirit of the country dance
blended with Lisztian sparkle. The reflective and peaceful
piece In the Salon contrasts with the dramatically
robust By the Castle.The sturdy final piece Celebration
of Czech country folk is again strongly reminiscent of
Smetana’s 1858 piano transcription The Curious One of
the Schubert song Der Neugierige (Inquisitive)
from the great 1823 song cycle Die schöne Müllerin is
highly appealing and contains touches of excitement in the
central section. The Concert Étude in C major also
from 1858 is a weighty work with edge-of-the-seat drama and On
the Sea Shore - a memory from 1861 was inspired by the
action of the sea from the Swedish coastline. From 1862 the
generally upbeat Fantasia on Czech Folksongs is the
longest single work on the disc. I felt the score looked
forward to Ravelian impressionism but I was less able to
discern a strong influence of Czech folk-song.
Around the late 1870s and early 1880s Smetana wrote
two sets of Czech Dances for piano. From the first
book the Polka in F sharp minor is brief and affectionate
with shades of Chopin andin the A minor Polka Smetana
gradually builds to a degree of excitement. The final work
on the disc is the piece Hulán from the second book
of Czech Dances. A gentle opening and conclusion enclose
a weightier and robust section of considerable brilliance.
Pianist Kathryn Stott acquits herself admirably in this
interesting and reasonably appealing solo piano repertoire.
With the Potton Hall Steinway Grand displaying a superb timbre,
Stott’s playing is fluid and warm. Especially notable is
how she provides an impressive degree of refinement and nuance.
The sound quality provided by the Chandos engineers is exemplary
and the booklet contains a splendid essay from Jan Smaczny.
Kathryn Stott is a soloist in her prime who I recently
heard play the Ravel Piano Concertoin G major at
a concert in the north of England in a performance that made
a considerable impression. Her 2001 Potton Hall recording
of Les Heures Persanes by Charles Koechlin on Chandos
9974 remains a particular favourite from my piano music collection.
Koechlin’s rewarding music deserves to be heard far more
often and I would love her Koechlin foray to continue in
the recording studio. With Stott’s collaboration with the Škampa
Quartet I look forward to hearing their forthcoming recording
of the Dvorak Piano Quintet on Supraphon.
There seems to be only a small number of all-Smetana
piano recordings in the catalogues. The three volumes of
discs from Jitka Čechová on Supraphon are the probably
the most likely to be encountered. I am also aware of a six
volume set of the complete piano works of Smetana from Ivan
Klánský (member of the Guarneri Trio Prague) on Kontrapunkt
as well as the Kvapil anthology on Regis.
The craftsmanship of these Smetana pieces is accomplished
but the thematic material, level of variety and instrumental
colouring has less merit. Nevertheless this is a well performed
and recorded disc.
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