Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Piano Sonata in E flat minor 1:x From the Street (1905) [13:30]
On An Overgrown Path - Cycle of piano pieces: Books 1 and 2 (1901-08) [47:13]
Reminiscence (1928) [1:08]
In the Mist - four piano pieces: (1912) [15:42]
Slávka Pĕchočová (piano)
rec. Prague Martinů Concert Hall, September - November 2009.
PRAGA DSD250266 [77:33]

Exactly this same programme was recorded by British pianist, Charles Owen, for Somm (SOMMCD 028) in 2002. This review will use that earlier recording as a comparator.

Janáček’s description for his 1905 Piano Sonata - Street Scene 1.X 1905 - refers to the killing of a workman during a citizens’ clash, in Brno on October 1st 1905, over a proposal to build a university. It clearly had a profound effect on Janáček for the composer prefaced the score with a short poem that included the lines, ‘... He came only to plead for a university ... And was killed by cruel murderers.’ Both Owen and Pĕchočová realise the alternating anger and tenderness and the closing wistfulness of the opening ‘Presentiments’. The second movement, ‘The Death’, with the same material given to the two hands and moving in one or two octaves apart, utters shocked numbing repetitions. This is so revealing: communicating bitterness and almost uncontrollable anger. On balance Owen seems to get to the heart of the tragedy of this Sonata that much more effectively.

The pieces that comprise Book 1 of On an Overgrown Path have descriptive titles (their meaning sometimes ambiguous) but the five that comprise Book 2 have only music markings. A clue to the music comes from some commentators whose view of the work is ‘a reminiscence of Janáček’s daughter, Olga, who, his only child to survive infancy, had fallen ill and died just short of her 21st birthday. Pĕchočová’s reading of the opening ‘Our Evenings’ lacks Owen’s contrast of mood and colour. Her interpretation did not move me so much; perhaps her fingering was just that bit too heavy for such a title - tenderness was lacking. Yet her ‘A Leaf Gone with the Wind’ haunted even if the pauses seemed a little long. But then Pĕchočová’s ‘Come With Us’ seemed colourless, lacking in any form of expression in comparison to Owen whereas her ‘The Madonna of Frýdek’ was beautifully realised. ‘They Chattered Like Swallows’ was a nice vision, jolly and childlike. After a sombre beginning, ‘Words Fail’, alternated a lovely lilting with strong forceful chords while ‘Good night’ hesitates, suggesting pent-up anxiety, then relief. In ‘Unutterable Anguish’ Pĕchočová demonstrates this anguish only too well. ‘In Tears’ we are left wondering: are these tears of joy or sorrow; we are left guessing because of the varying rhythms and moods. Finally, alternate fortissimo flourishes and quiet gentleness inform ‘The Little Owl Has Not (YET?) Flown Away’.

The Andante and Allegretto the two opening movements of Book 2 On an Overgrown Path are similar in style, reflective, anxious and angry in turn. The Paralipomenas are all so similar too. There is often evidence of thematic linking and frequently Moravian folk-dance rhythms. The little Reminiscences are quite charming and lyrical. Pĕchočová’s reveries are beguiling enough.

Finally the four-segment In the Mists mixes secular and liturgical influences. There is evidence of Janáček’s fondness for native speech-rhythms as well as more fragile images suggesting, perhaps, Vespers heard in distant, evening twilight. Pĕchočová rises well to the challenges of this often complex music. It displays frequent mood-changes from lyrical and thoughtful and gentle and tender to anger and confusion.

As much as I enjoyed this new recording I felt that Pĕchočová’s readings lacked the conviction, colour and expression Charles Owen brought to these lovely works.

Grace Lace 
Pĕchočová’s readings lacked the conviction, colour and expression Charles Owen brought to these lovely works ... see Full Review 

Full tracklist
Piano Sonata in E flat minor 1:x:1905 ‘From the Street’ (1905) [13:30]
‘ Presentiment’ [5:55] and ‘The Death’ [7:28]
On An Overgrown Path Cycle of piano pieces 91901-08)
Book 1 [29:47]: ‘Our evenings’ [3:22]; ‘A Leaf Gone with the Wind’ [3:05], ‘Come With Us’ [1:16]; ‘The Holy Virgin of Frýdek’ [3:37]; ‘They Chattered Like Little Swallows’ [2:22]; ‘Words Fail!’ [1:58]; ‘Good Night!’ [3:00]; Unutterable Anguish [3:36]; ‘In tears’ [3:17]; ‘The Little Owl Has Flown Away’ [3:33].
Book 2 [16:49]: Andante [3:00]; Allegro [3:40]; Paralipomenas (i) più mosso [2:25]; (ii) vivo [2:38]; (iii) allegro [5:03]
Reminiscence (1928) [1:08]
In the Mist four piano pieces: (1912) [15:42]: Andante [3:31]; Molto adagio [4:48]; Andantino [2:38]; presto [4:27]