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Libor Novacek (piano)
Sonata 1.X.1905 ‘A Scene from the Street’ (1905) [13.40]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Preludes Book II (six pieces from) (1910-1912) [22.23]

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Le Tombeau de Couperin (1917) [28.25]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)

Three Czech Dances (1926) [09.29]
Libor Novacek, piano
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 15-17 October 2005. DDD

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Landor Records state on their website that their aims are to unearth new talent and enrich the recorded repertoire. True to their word this release marks the debut for Landor of talented Czech pianist Libor Novacek, the winner of the Landor Competition in September 2005.

Leoš Janáček’s Sonata 1.X.1905 was written between 1905 and 1906 and its music portrays the composer’s reaction to the dramatic force of Czech patriotism. Janáček was an active Slav and a strong supporter of an independent Czech language. In 1905 Brno’s Czech minority petitioned for a Czech University. At a protest rally arranged by Brno Germans the army and police were called out to suppress a counter-demonstration in which a young supporter was fatally wounded.

The Sonata was originally cast in three movements. However Janáček was unhappy with the score and burned the third movement; believed to be a funeral march, on the day of the premičre. The emotional opening movement is titled ‘Presentiment’ where outbursts of passion and fear are abruptly alternated with calm, song-like motifs. In the second movement ‘The Death’ is a harrowing and sombre adagio. Soloist Libor Novacek offers a riveting account of this unsettling Janáček score with a marvellous interpretation that is frequently breathtaking.

Composed between 1910 and 1912 Debussy’s Preludes, Book II are almost neo-classical in their use of a Baroque idiom. The Preludes are unique in their depiction of colour and nuance, using an economy of means and tonal brilliance found in the best impressionistic paintings. Libor Novacek has selected six of the twelve Preludes from Book II for inclusion. He explains in his booklet notes how he played the ‘The Children’s Corner as a child and his love for Debussy has grown ever since. The soloist’s admiration for Debussy certainly shows through in his playing with an interpretation that blends finesse with colourful expression.

Originally intended as a musical tribute to the harpsichord music of François Couperin-le-Grand the celebrated score Le Tombeau de Couperin was Ravels final work for solo piano. Composed between 1914 and 1917 Ravel was to dedicate this set of six pieces in honour of friends that had died in the Great War. Ravel was further affected by the death of his mother at this time yet there is no trace of pity or melancholy under the surface of the music. Le Tombeau de Couperin is essentially a neo-classical work and it is heard here with all the necessary seventeenth century economy and transparency. In the Fugue, Forlane and Menuet Novacek convincingly communicates a sense of serenity in the spirit of a by-gone age.

Bohuslav Martinů composed his Three Czech Dances in 1926 during his stay in Paris. The Czech composer had gone to France in 1923 to study with Albert Roussel in order to gain experience from the French impressionists, such as Ravel and Debussy and from the so-called ‘Paris Six’. Martinů was keen to leave behind the deeply nationalistic tradition that so influenced Smetana and Dvořák. The Three Czech Dances are an interesting metamorphosis of a traditional Czech dance called the ‘Matenik’ that became popular, rapidly spreading out from its peasant roots in Eastern Bohemia to other regions and social classes. In the first piece the ‘Obrocak’ the soloist is highly assured amid the technical demands of the unusual and unexpected accents and humorous alternating polyrhythmic motifs. The soloist is an authoritative and vigorous interpreter of the ‘Dupak’, distinctive for its loud thuds that represent the stamping of the dancers. Novacek is equally impressive with the contrasting dynamics of the final piece in the set, the ‘Polka’.

The team of Jeremy Hayes and Tony Faulkner have provided a most agreeable and especially well balanced sound quality. The booklet notes written by Novacek are interesting and informative.

The assured playing from Libor Novacek makes riveting listening. I look forward to hearing more recitals from him.

Michael Cookson


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