CD Supraphon - Janáček, Martinů, Kabeláč
Classics Today, David Hurwitz
Supraphon has hit on an excellent programming concept: combine well-known Czech works with equally rewarding unfamiliar pieces. And when the performances are as fine as these, the result adds up to much more than the sum of its parts. Janácek's sole piano sonata (or what's left of it, a third movement was destroyed) is well known and wholly representative of his quirky idiom. Ivo Kahánek plays it beautifully (and his instrument, a Petrof, has a particularly warm, attractive tone). He's particularly adept at catching the music's spontaneity--in the first movement especially--while still effectively shaping the larger paragraphs. Other versions might have more eruptive climaxes, but this is just as legitimate and expressively apt.
Martinu's sonata is a very late work, composed just after the Sixth Symphony, and it shares something of that piece's fantastic atmosphere. There is no real slow movement, and negotiating the thickets of notes represents a real challenge, one that Kahánek understands and surmounts with ease. But the real find here, and at nearly 30 minutes the largest work on the disc, is Miloslav Kabelác's Eight Preludes, a real masterpiece that ought to be a repertory item for pianists the world over. The music is exquisite, often sparse, but invariably harmonically interesting and effectively structured. The preludes are variously marked: ostinato, meditativo, sognante, corale, notturno, volante, arioso, and impetuoso. Together, they make a magnificent cycle richly varied in mood and expression. Kahánek clearly loves this piece and proves its ideal advocate, whether in the delicate traceries of the "dreaming" third movement, the agitated "corale", or the heroic bell-ringing that characterizes the final number.
As an encore, we get three very early (1879-80) keyboard fugues by Janácek, written while he was still a student in Leipzig. Obviously they are not characteristic of his mature work, but they are fun to have all the same. The last of the three is quite a substantial piece--longer than the first movement of the sonata, though hardly as musically interesting. Finally, excellent engineering places the piano in an ideally warm and clear space. A great recital!