Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
On an Overgrown Path [29:51]:-
Book I: 1. Our Evenings (Moderato) [4:01]; 2. A Blown-Away Leaf (Andante) [2:41]; 3. Come with Us (Andante) [1:11]; 4. The Madonna of Frydek (Grave) [3:29]; 5. They Chattered Like Swallows (Con moto) [2:11]; 6. Words Fail (Andante) [2:06]; 7. Good Night (Andante) [3:29]; 8. Unutterable Anguish (Andante) [2:45]; 9. In Tears (Larghetto) [3:36]; 10. The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away (Andante) [4:12].
Book II: 11. I Andante [3:05]; 12. II Allegretto - Presto [3:16]; Paralipomena 13. I Più mosso [2:49]; 14. II Allegro [5:15]; 15. III Vivo [2:09]
In the Mists [16:45]
16. I Andante [3:56]; 17. II Molto adagio, presto [5:00]; 18. III Andantino [2:40]; 19. Presto, Meno mosso, Adagio [5:09]
Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 In memory of František Pavlík (1885-1905) [15:10]
20. Foreboding (Von moto) [6:27]; 21 Death (Adagio) [8:43]
Andrea Pestalozza (piano)
rec. Dynamic Studios, Genoa, Italy, May 1990
DYNAMIC DM8010 [78:38]
I’ve always enjoyed music that makes you think, that touches my soul, so I prefer Beethoven to much of Mozart. Janàček fits into this same bracket - you don’t listen to his music to make you feel happy but to confront the world as it is and not as you might wish it to be. His Moravian folk-music inspired pieces “On an Overgrown Path”, originally intended for harmonium, and only later when the cycle grew, consigned to the piano, date from 1901 (not 1902 as the liner notes say) and were completed in 1908. The first two are melancholic reminiscences of times spent in the summer back in his birthplace of Hukvaldy, then come three further descriptive pieces based around experiences from his youth. Then we share in the pain, agony and unspeakable grief he suffered after his only daughter Olga died, aged only 21 in February 1903. I have adored these works since I first came across them over thirty years ago; they are so human in their depiction of the composer’s feelings of despair. They really draw you in and wring you emotionally, particularly when you learn of the references - No.8 ‘Unutterable anguish’ is a vivid portrait of Olga’s suffering. ‘Perhaps you will sense the weeping in it’, Janàček wrote to the musicologist Jan Branberger. ‘During the hot summer nights that angelic being lay in mortal anguish’. Even No.10 which was written before Olga’s illness seems like a premonition, telling as it does, of the folk-tale which has it that if a barn owl perches outside a window and screeches and cannot be driven away then someone within the house will soon die. ‘The Barn Owl has not flown away’ is the normal translation but, unless you learn of the legend it doesn’t make much sense, whereas a translation I have on my Czech Supraphon vinyl disc of the same works translates it as ‘The bird of ill omen lingers on’ which immediately gives you an understanding of what the music is out to portray. The second set did not appear in Janà ček’s lifetime. He never completed the set or gave the pieces titles as he did for the first set. However, the publisher František Schäfer added two later piano works to the set which explains why the first two are the only examples of his mature lyricism. Janàček’s cycle ‘In the Mists’ which dates from 1912 also deals with memories from the past with his distinctive interpretation of them. His Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 (composed in 1924) is a commemoration of the death of a worker who was killed by the Austrians as he was demonstrating for the foundation of a university in Brno. Unfortunately only two movements survive and then only because one of the composer’s students had transcribed it as Janà ček had chucked the manuscript into the river. The two movements entitled ‘Foreboding’ and ‘Death’ are tellingly apt considering the sad event the work commemorates. Janà ček was quite ruthless with his works if they didn’t come up to his high standards, so self-critical a person was he, and what is these days known as Zdeňka’s Variations (or Tema con Variazioni) was only saved from burning through his wife Zdeňka’s intervention as it had been dedicated to her.
The recording of these works presented here is from 1990 and I have to confess that I had not come across the pianist Andrea Pestalozza before. He makes a persuasive case for the music but out of the three recordings I now own my preferred reading is by the Czech pianist Ivan Klánský. The other is from András Schiff on London D102574. Maybe it takes a Czech to really get inside the music and my Supraphon record 1111 2976 G is a prized possession. That is not to say that anyone would be disappointed with the Italian disc for I enjoyed it very much. However Klánský’s recording just has that extra edge this music, full of nostalgia and regret, requires to make it work perfectly.
You would not be disappointed with this.