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Songs of Winter Nights
Vitezslav NOVAK (1870-1949)

Songs of Winter Nights Op 30
Josef Bohuslav FOERSTER (1859-1951)

Dreaming Op 47
Zdenek FIBICH (1850-1900)

Two Scherzi Op 4
Leos JANACEK (1854-1928)

Intimate Sketches
Moravian Dances
Marian Lapsansky, piano
Recorded Martinů Hall, Prague March and September 1995
SUPRAPHON SU 3016-2 131 [73’40]

 

Indefatigable Slovak pianist Marian Lapsansky, whose epic Fibich cycle was so justly admired, is now teaching at the Bratislava Conservatoire. He continues to explore his native repertoire on disc with insight and acumen and his choices are never self-serving. As this disc shows quite clearly Lapsansky is not above programming otherwise intractable material, all the more valuable for being otherwise under explored areas of the Czech repertoire – though undoubtedly the highly politicised Janacek would have insisted on the geographical niceties of distinctive Moravian folk inspirations being observed. It’s nevertheless an unusual recital inasmuch as it embodies pianistic reflectiveness without any great commensurate depth. Novak’s Songs of Winter Nights was composed during 1903 and first performed by legendary Czech pianist Jan Herman (who never recorded it though he did record Novak’s 1894 Op 6, Amoroso, from the Memories cycle). In terms of the composer’s compositional chronology it dates from the first great flowering of Novak’s early thirties after a period of depression that had plagued him just before the turn of the century. In rapid succession he produced In the Tatra Mountains (1902), the Slovak Suite (1903), Eternal Longing (1903-5). It also postdates the remarkable Sonata Eroica of 1900, perhaps Novak’s first great work. The Novak Catalogue notes Songs of Winter Nights as lasting c15½ minutes; Lapsansky takes seventeen. Competitors have included Frantisek Rauch and Otakar Vondrovic as well as the more accessible Radoslav Kvapil on ASV – I’m not sure if these remain in the catalogues. The becalmed and ravishing opening, a Moonlit Night, portends the pictorial felicities to come – the fractious and glittering Stormy Night, the rapt simplicity of a Christmas Night, the Third Movement, which lightens and brightens before returning to its initial traceries. With its hints of Mussoursgky the final movement, A Carnival Night, is a skittish Pierrot of a piece from hammered bass to percussive right hand and a delightful end to a light-hearted work. I suspect Herman would have taken A Christmas Night at a jauntier pace than does Lapsansky but there can be few complaints about the Slovak pianist’s eventful pianism.

Foerster’s Dreaming was composed in Hamburg in 1898 and though he was nearing forty is a youthful and pleasurably lyrical suite of five movements. There is delicacy, lyricism and late Romantic intimacy in the opening movement, marked Sostenuto molto, redolent of Schumann and played with verdant simplicity. The central Andante con moto is wistful and reflective, rather insistent in its repetitions whilst the fourth movement is all charm and the final Allegro a triumphantly bright conclusion. Fibich is represented by two frankly unrepresentative little Scherzi – student works and Op 4, written in Leipzig, the second of which however has an embryonic Fibichian seriousness and nobility recognisable to all who so admire, say, the slow movements of the Symphonies. It’s certainly not Molto vivace in Lapsansky’s hands however qualified that might be by the indication con umore – shouldn’t that be amore? Janacek’s two folk cycles are infectious and brief; most of the dances last less then a minute; only one lasts two. Wistfulness and lustful vigour co-exist with drama and attack – the Rondo of Intimate Sketches is like the whiff of cordite, whilst the following Souvenir seems to possess a strange interiority, an undisclosed schema all its own. If you want romantic limpidity listen to the delicious To My Olga; if you prefer stately formality try the Lullaby. Rustic vivacity will seize you in the Little Axe dance of the Moravian Dances; don’t be taken in by the initial refinement of the dance known as The Fur Jacket; whatever it is you won’t sit down for a week. The acme of Janacek’s slyness is the Little Deer dance; as befits this shy creature it vanishes before you knew it was there – it lasts eleven seconds.

Much of this material is uncontested discographically; in a mellow acoustic, with such lively and understanding playing this disc adds materially to Lapsansky’s reputation as a connoisseur exponent of his native literature.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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