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Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Dreams (c.1875)
Faded Happiness [4:49]
Consolation [4:48]
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. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10430 [67:59]



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 Liszt.
 
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 and in 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 Concerto in 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.
 
Michael Cookson
 

 


 


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