I had intended to wax lyrical on the subject of Firkušný’s
Janáček. It would really only be a question of discussing
which of the two recitals one favoured – this ex-RCA Red Seal
recording made in June 1989 just as the Velvet Revolution brought
down the Communist Curtain – or the DG LP set, which the Czech
pianist taped back in 1971. The fruits of that earlier session
can be found on DG 20th Century Classics CD 429 857-2.
There would be a small tussle over the respective merits of
the two books of On an Overgrown Path – an inflection
here, a small measure of extra time there – or the two performances
of the Sonata and In the Mists, both hugely commanding.
There is also the small matter of that DG recording including
the Theme and Variations and this RCA-now-Newton having
the 48 second A Recollection. Otherwise it’s really a
duplicatory question. Having done that, I would have hailed
Firkušný as the natural successor on disc to the pianist
who introduced many to Janáček on disc in the days of 78s
– Jan Pálenícek, who also made some early LPs of the composer’s
music. I’d have added that the first Janáček disc Firkušný
recorded was the Concertino, on 78s. Also, I should have
noted in passing how great a loss it was that the greatest Czech
pianist of the first half of the twentieth century, Jan Herman,
never recorded any of the composer’s music.
But I must put aside my enthusiasm to note that something has
gone wrong with the tracking of Book I of On an Overgrown
Path. It’s thrown all my intentions out of kilter. These
things do happen, and Newton is an excellent label, and I happen
to be an admirer of its work, annotation and booklet design.
So please don’t think I am dismissing its retrieval work when
I say that the second piece of Book I is not (in English) The
Barn Owl has not Flown Away. It’s A Blown-Away Leaf.
Anyone coming fresh to this performance will be stumped by this
mis-tracking – it’s not the pianist’s caprice because he performed
it perfectly ordered on his other discs – and I think the chore
of forwarding to the correct second track which is the next
one, and ending the cycle with correct track, which is the second
… well, you get my drift.
If you can live with this, I have no hesitation in recommending
the performances, which are as good as you will ever find in
this repertoire. If you can’t, then you should fall back, as
I shall, on the original issue, which was RCA Red Seal 60147-2.