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Ján CIKKER (1911-1989)
Piano Music
Lullaby (1942) [2:29]
Sonatina, Op.12 No.1 (1933) [11:57]
Two Compositions for Youth, Op.27 (1948) [3:16]
Piano Variations on a Slovak Folksong (1973) [8:36]
Seven Fugues: Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 6 (1932-34) [7:33]
Theme with Variations, Op.14 No.1 (1935) [12:36]
What the Children Told Me: Piano Aquarelles (1962) [15:58]
Tatra Brooks: Three Studies for Piano (1954) [10:40]
Jordana Palovičová (piano)
rec. July and November 2011, Fatra House of Art, Žilina, Slovakia
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0270 [74:05]

Amongst the best-known Slovak composers of the twentieth-century are Alexander Moyzes and Eugen Suchoň. Folkloric music, meanwhile, was often in the hands of Mikuláš Schneider-Trnavsky, then as now mined for his vocal works in particular. Then there is Ján Cikker, the subject of this release. Cikker (1911-89) studied composition in Prague with Jaroslav Křička, and continued in the master-class of Vítězslav Novák. He then studied conducting with Weingartner, something he had earlier studied in Prague with Pavel Dědeček. So he was a well-rounded musician by the mid-1930s. He became especially well-recognised for his operatic works, as well as for his orchestral music, but this disc focuses on the series of piano music he composed. He had studied the piano as a child and in Prague with Růžena Kurzová.

The music spans the years 1932 to 1973. The earliest works are the ‘prentice Fugues he wrote for Křička in Prague of which four of the surviving seven are presented. Appropriately we have a representative sample of two-part, three-part and one four-part fugue attesting to his Hindemith-like application. Around the same time he completed his Sonatina, Op.12 No.1, a fluent, clear, fresh example of his youthful ‘al fresco’ style. The Theme with Variations of 1935 is making its first appearance on disc and is a more complex piece, written just before he entered Novák’s advanced class in Prague It has a quasi-improvisatory theme and a series of brief but contrasting variations, variously pawky, brash and slightly obsessive before the music returns to the opening improvised aura.

The wartime Lullaby, also a premiere recording, is a post-Chopin piece and very brief and the post-war Two Compositions for Youth are taut character studies of which the rippling second is the more engaging. Tatra Brooks may remind one, in name perhaps only, of Moyzes’ orchestral study of the River Vah, as it too delves into the rich topography of Slovakia. In Cikker’s case he looks further east, to the Tatra Mountains – he was a keen mountaineer. This is by some way the most enjoyable and invigorating music here, vivacious, post-impressionist, stormy and even turbulent. Cikker invokes colour and rhythm nicely throughout. The Aquarelles, What the Children Told Me (1962) are fifteen simple character pieces, a minute so in length, and pleasingly suggestive of forest, brook, and bogeyman. Finally there is the Piano Variations on a Slovak Folksong (1973) composed when he was a leading operatic composer. The theme and seven variations hearken back to the 1935 variations in form but the results are much livelier and more characterful.

The recording is well judged and contemporary Slovak composer Vladimir Godár has written the fine booklet notes - though in a larger-than-usual font size. Jordana Palovičová plays Cikker with style and sensitivity and it’s good that she has widened his piano representation on disc.

Jonathan Woolf