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.