Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op 5 (1853) [36:36]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Sonata in B minor, S178 (1853) [29:08]. Mephisto Waltz No. 1, S514 (1859/60) [11:31].
Jitka CechovŠ (piano)
rec. Live, Rudolfinum, Prague, 31 March 2001 (Brahms) and 22 March 2008 (rest)
SUPRAPHON SU40212 [79:22]

Jitka CechovŠ has been producing a steady stream of well-received discs for the Czech company Supraphon. Back in 2009, I welcomed a disc of chamber music by Smetana and Tchaikovsky; a year earlier I found much to cherish in her solo Smetana. She is a musician of great talent, and the present disc of works central to the piano repertoire does not disappoint. Strange that there is a seven year gap between the recordings of the two pieces, though.

CechovŠ brings unbridled virtuosity to the first movement of the Brahms, a virtuosity she puts in tandem with excellent projection of the workís huge canvas. The second movement is all crepuscular tenderness, though, beautifully pedaled and delivered with a most welcoming tone and balanced by the outgoing, Viennese-ball like swing to the Scherzo (Brahms at his most extrovert) and the dark overtones of the Intermezzo (RŁckblick). Perhaps she is at her interpretative finest in this latter movement, where she brings out all the menace inherent in the music. Her pacing of the finale is exquisite - she pits playfulness against granitic monumentalism to fine effect. History brings čechovŠ in competition with Curzon (Decca) and Solomon (Testament), in particular, but her reading has its own steadfast integrity.

The Liszt Sonata carries even greater weight in terms of recording history. Once again CechovŠ gives a reading of the utmost integrity, an interpretation that is clearly the result of many yearsí study. As such it comes as a welcome contrast to the plethora of youthful pianists who treat it purely as a virtuoso vehicle. Her reading is still exciting, and if it does not highlight the workís pointers towards the composerís late period (as Polliniís DG recording does), nor stimulate as much as Lazar Berman, it is hugely impressive nonetheless. CechovŠís sweet tone enables the lyrical sections to sing beautifully - her sound is magnificently caught by the Supraphon engineers - yet she has the strength to deliver strenuous chordal work with seeming ease. Vastly to her credit is the fact she takes her time in the lyrical moments, letting the lines sing. The resultant impression is of a vast song transcription. Interestingly, the Mephistophelean elements (around 19:00ff in particular) are somewhat toned down, in keeping with the overall reading. Yet the Mephisto Waltz itself - which concludes the disc - contains spiky, almost blackly, elemental playing. If the glissando soon before the two minute mark could have more abandon, there remains much here to fascinate and, indeed, titillate the ear. CechovŠís fine feeling for texture means detail is rarely if ever obscured, even in the densest passages. The perilous leaps around 8:50 are expertly negotiated.

A fascinating disc from a pianist whose career is most definitely worth following.

Colin Clarke

A fascinating disc form a pianist whose career is most definitely worth following.