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Vitězslav NOVÁK (1870-1949)
Pan, Op. 43 [54:43]
Dimitri TCHESNOKOV (b. 1982)
La Neige – Deux Études [11:48]
Patrick Hemmerlé (piano)
rec. Temple Saint-Marcel, Paris, 2016
INDÉSENS INDE097 [66:34]

The tone poem Pan, or to be more accurate “poem in tones”, is the most important and longest piano work by the Czech composer, Vitězslav Novák, and one of the most prominent of all Czech piano works of the twentieth century. Composed in 1910 when the composer was forty and at the height of his popularity, it has passages within its five movements that are quite thick in texture and even orchestral in nature. This led Novák to orchestrate the work two years later. I must say that of the four versions I now have I prefer the orchestral version least of all.

The five movements of Pan are a late romantic evocation of the countryside and nature, a theme to which Novák was no stranger especially with works such as V Tatrách Op 26. Here for example in the second movement Hory, we once again see Novák communing with nature in his favourite place, the mountains. This is a complex and ambitious work for both composer and performer. At 55 minutes is difficult to program and is therefore unlikely to be heard live, especially outside Novák’s homeland.
František Rauch’s recording for piano on Supraphon (SU 37442 113) remains the benchmark for me, despite its age. It is closely followed by Margaret Fingerhut’s version on Chandos (CHAN 9489), although it is the slowest. Especially in the Hory section she lets the music breathe, Hers is a thoughtful and best-recorded performance. In this respect I find Patrick Hemmerlé’s recording a little too brash and aggressive at times. I also feel that he puts too much emphasis on the Debussian passages—an influence in the music that Novák flatly denied—making something of the work that it is not; it is an interesting approach nonetheless.  
Dimitri Tchesnokov is a name new to me. He is a Franco-Ukrainian pianist and composer born in Russia. La Neige or The Snow, two etudes or “fantastic studies for piano”, were composed in 2003. They evoke nature, reminding me of Debussy’s The Snow is Dancing, but the influence of Chopin is strongly felt. These charming and well-played miniatures—despite their nod to the past—are attractive and worthy pieces. Let us hope for more Tchesnokov in future releases.

Stuart Sillitoe 



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