A vastly laudable project
that includes a real bonus. V mlhách
and Vzpomínka are heard
twice (once on each disc), the first
time played on
Janáček’s own piano, and secondly
on a modern concert grand; the actual
make is unstated. More of that soon,
but let it be stated first and foremost
that the value of this enterprise lies
in Jiraský’s eminently musical approach
to these works. They seem to
be receiving more and more recorded
exposure although concert performances
still seem rare, at least in the UK.
The set begins with
the two works for piano and ensemble.
First is the Capriccio for piano
left hand, flute, two trumpets, three
trombones and tuba, as strange a combination
as you are likely to meet. Yet it works
supremely well, thanks to Janáček’s
supremely keen aural imagination. The
work opens in distinctly Neo-Classical
mode. The staccato brass, march-like,
make Stravinsky seem remarkably close
by, yet with a Czech accent.
This is quirky but endlessly fascinating
music, especially when played like this.
Jiraský’s articulation is pearly-clear,
and some of the brass playing is jaw-droppingly
good - trumpets especially.
The slow movement,
placed second, is a tender adagio. There
is a tremendous sense of space here
from the piano at the beginning; the
brass’s retort could come from no other
composer in its repetitions of a tiny
motivic cell. The brass sound is notably
Czech – creamy, with occasional slight,
vibrato – astonishingly ear-friendly.
Janáček’s contrasts of timbre,
tempo and material are expertly negotiated.
Sometimes it is easy to believe that
the word ‘transition’ was not in Janáček’s
vocabulary! The third movement’s sound-world
to these ears – a sort of Czech Besses-o’-th’-Barn,
with piano scalic comments cut from
crystal. The flute does rather appear
to be playing straight into the microphone
– either that or an engineer decided
we needed to hear flautist Jiří
Ševčík more. Ševčík
does, however, play the pastoral flute
melody that opens the fairly dark-coloured
is arguably the better known ensemble
piece. I like Jiraský’s way with
the single-line opening, the way each
note speaks, as well as the
way he welcomes the almost Chopinesque
lines that appear during the course
of this movement, married to Janáček’s
sometimes disjunct way. Contrasts reach
a peak in the third movement, wherein
some gestures are positively filmic
in their largesse! The light
finale is a magical way to end.
The first solo work
we hear is the early Tema con variazioni
(Zdenka’s Variations), a piece written
as a composition exercise while the
composer was in Leipzig (the Zdenka
of the title is Zdenka Schulzová).
The theme itself is eminently approachable,
with real tendresse about it. Janáček’s
imagination enjoys free-ish reign. The
sustained note-values against proto-typical
quirky, short, nervous figures is particularly
interesting in light of the composer’s
later musical development. Moments of
repose are uniformly lovely; just a
shame that the very end is so
abrupt. A miscalculation of youth, surely.
No such miscalculations
in the much better known V mlhách
(‘In the Mists’), a work of pure genius.
On disc one, as mentioned above, we
hear them on Janáček’s own piano,
now held in the Janáček museum
Brno. Of course, musically we enter
a new world in terms of harmonic and
motivic exploration here. It has to
be said that the lighter, brighter sound
of Janáček’s piano does not diminish
the gorgeous, languorous first movement
one iota. The harmonic ‘twist’
that characterises the opening chordal
sequence of the second movement is all
the more effective for Jiraský’s
decision not to over-milk it. Indeed,
this straightforward approach precludes
any suggestion of meandering.
The piano sounds tinny,
unfortunately, at levels of forte and
above as the third movement amply demonstrates.
How interesting it is that in the finale
the piano almost sounds more like a
The short Vzpomínka
(‘Reminiscence’) is memorable despite
its brevity, trailing off hauntingly,
like some disappearing memory.
The much better-known
‘On the Overgrown Path’ is, under Jiraský’s
fingers, a journey into the sweet pain
of reminiscence. He refuses to dawdle,
though - a characteristic of his playing
- and the music emerges the fresher
for it. Particularly impressive is the
sixth movement of I, ‘Dobrou noc!’ (‘Good
Night!’), as disturbingly barren a night-time
valediction as you are likely to hear.
The opening of the last movement could
be more explosive a gesture; a rare
of Jiraský underselling Janáček.
The contrasts inherent
in the Second volume of pieces are more
marked, and here Jiraský does
give them full weight. His highlighting
of the folk-dance element of the final
‘Vivo’ is most effective.
The Sonata I.X.1906,
‘Z ulice’ provides plenty of opportunity
for Jiraský to show his timbral
sensitivity. Trills take on real emotive
and structural import much in the way
they do in late Beethoven. They are
no longer ornamental. Jiraský
uses perhaps less pedal than most indeed
some may find the left-hand staccato
at the climax somewhat dry and abrupt.
The second movement (subtitled ‘Smrt’
– ‘Death’) has a truly hopeless beginning,
and a sense of barely controlled urgency,
nay panic, later. Impressive.
and Vzpomínka recur, now
on a more decadent modern grand. To
these ears, the cantabile of the first
movement works. Certainly the second
movement (‘Molto adagio’) sounds more
harmonically luxuriant here, and the
piano’s extra depth seems to add an
extra layer of meaning also to the final
Presto. But it is up to the listener
to decide preference and I would suggest
we are lucky indeed to have the choice.