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Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Complete Works for Piano
Martino Tirimo (piano)
rec. Liechtenstein Palace, Prague, 5-7 December 2003
Detailed track-listing at end of review
HERITAGE HTGCD 264/5 [50:45 + 60:47]

Martino Tirimo enlisted Milan Slavicky, composer and Janáček enthusiast, as the producer for these recordings made in Janáček’s home country. The engineer is Ondrej Urban.
 
Mr Tirimo hardly needs an introduction or any endorsement from me. He has appeared with many of the world’s leading orchestras with conductors that include Barbirolli, Boult, Sanderling, Masur and Rattle. He has also played and directed many cycles of the five Beethoven concertos with the Dresdner Philharmonie in Germany and at the Royal Festival Hall in London. His marvellous recording of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 coupled with the Paganini Rhapsody is justly famous and he has also recorded the two Brahms concertos and the Tippett concerto under the direction of the composer. This is just a handful of titles from his extensive CD catalogue.
 
The present recording of Janáček’s piano music from 2003 is highly desirable. CD 2 is devoted to a On an overgrown path and CD1 is a bonus containing as it does five other works to complete the oeuvre. Tema con Variazioni:Variations for Zdenka opens the recital. It contains nothing especially original but is well written in the style of the German romantic composers. It isn’t recognisable as Janáček at all but it’s an enjoyable piece all the same. In the Mist consists of four impressionist movements and these are more obviously from the pen of Janáček. The opening Andante includes some high passages in the right hand reminiscent of Sinfonietta. The final Presto contains those sudden tempo changes and unusual sonorities so typical of the composer. The tolling left hand notes at one end of the keyboard and right hand flourishes at the opposite end couldn’t have been written by anyone else. A Recollection is a 20 bar miniature of pure nostalgia. It is the composer’s final piano piece and sounds for all the world like a fond farewell. The Piano Sonata was destroyed by the composer but luckily the first two movements had been copied and therefore survived to tell the tale. It’s hard to see why he was so dissatisfied. The work is full of dramatic outbursts and contrasting passages of light and shade. Maybe the second movement is in danger of marginally outstaying its welcome but most composers would give their eye teeth to have written something approaching this quality. The Three Moravian Dances, two of which also appear in the Lachian Dances for orchestra, are slight but attractive miniatures with a Czech style reminiscent of Smetana.
 
In 1901 and 1902, Janáček made a series of harmonium arrangements of Slovak melodies. These were to become the basis of On an overgrown path for solo piano. The work is presented here in its entirely. The 16 short pieces recall the composer’s childhood and the path to which he refers is a path that takes him through a series of memories, some happy, some sad and tragic. One painful memory included here is the death of his daughter, Olga, in 1903. The cycle is in many ways the composer’s individualistic take on Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood incorporating, along the way, his own special characteristic sound-world. Some of the joyful movements such as Come with us are quite obviously Czech in origin and others are full of anguish. The Madonna of Frydek is just sublime. It’s one of the most beautiful things you can ever imagine.
 
Martino Tirimo has the special knack of making everything sound easy. Janáček’s piano writing is bright and crystal clear and every note counts. That also suggests that it’s actually not that easy at all - any blemishes or moments of passing ugliness would show up. Everything is immaculately presented. These splendid performances are all captured here in immediate sound, including some gentle vocalising from the pianist. This is a good opportunity to hear some moving music, beautifully performed and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you enjoy Janáček’s orchestral and operatic scores you will like this.

John Whitmore
 
Track-listing
 
CD 1
Tema con Variazioni: Variations for Zdenka (1880)   10.38
In the Mist (1912)
Andante   3.40
Molto adagio   5.12
Andantino    3.34
Presto   5.28
A Recollection (1928)    1.44
Sonata 1.X.1905 (1905)
The presentiment   5.47
The death    7.22
Three Moravian Dances (1892, 1904)
Ej, Danaj!   2.36
Celadensky     2.11
Pilky    2.10

CD 2
On an overgrown path (Part I) (1901-1911)
Our Evenings   4.23
A Blown-Away leaf   3.51
Come With Us!  1.41
The Madonna of Frydek   5.10
They Chattered Like Swallows   2.44
Words Fail!  2.35
Good Night!  3.22
Unutterable Anguish  4.07
In Tears  3.18
The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away!   4.29
On an overgrown path (Part II) (1901-1911)
Andante  4.02
Allegretto   4.29
On an overgrown path (Paralipomena) (1901-1911)
Piu mosso   4.19
Allegro  6.12
Vivo  2.20
Vivo (first version)  3.31