It was while catching up with old newspaper cuttings that the Czech composer Leos Janacek chanced upon an ingenious hoax: a series of poems by a "farm labourer" (really a respected poet) who was chronicling his love for – and eventual seduction by – a gypsy girl. The discovery was fortuitous. Although well into late middle age at the time, Janacek was in the throes of a burning infatuation and ripe for composing his Diary of One Who Disappeared. Some 80 years on and the Diary still has the power enthral, stimulate and titillate (ie, when she tempts him to peep "where the sun can't reach"). Years ago, the great Czech tenor Beno Blachut made a wonderful recording of the piece (for Supraphon), but Ian Bostridge's new EMI CD, with Thomas Adès at the piano, is easily the best we've had since then. Bostridge's boyish, slightly awe-struck characterisation of the labourer, allied to Adès seemingly limitless facility for pianistic colouring, holds one spellbound. The mezzo Ruby Philogene is all steam and cunning as the gypsy girl.
If you just want to dip your toe in, try the third song, where Adès's brushed arpeggios are answered by quiet "glow worms" in the treble that are so ethereal you wonder how mere hands and hammers could have conjured them. Bostridge is at his best in the 14th movement, a poem about lost innocence and, as it happens, one of two songs that are also represented on the CD by totally different "earlier versions". The rest of the disc is given over to evocative piano miniatures, one or two of them – such as the 12-second "The Golden Ring" – composed just a couple of days before Janacek died. Others reflect his life-long love of folk music, the 12 variegated Moravian Folksongs (there are no voices involved here) being the most immediately attractive. It's a wonderful CD, compelling proof that when it comes to musical duration, less quite often means more.
But it isn't alone. The pianist Alexandre Tharaud has recorded a disc of Rameau that quashes the "period instrument" argument as successfully as Glenn Gould does for Bach. So often with Rameau's keyboard music ornaments can obscure the musical line, but not here where thematic threads sound clearly within a decorative context. The music itself is extraordinarily rich, especially the Suite in A, with its lofty Allemande, lavishly harmonised Sarabande and cumulatively majestic Gavotte et Doubles. The same CD also includes the Suite in G and ends, interestingly, with Debussy's Hommage à Rameau, warmly expressed and beautifully recorded.
Old and new are again juxtaposed for Joanna MacGregor's CD Play, where boogie preludes Piazzolla who in turn gives way to Byrd then Ligeti, who bows out for Somei Satoh, and so on. And there are the discoveries: Moses Taiwa Molelekwa with MacGregor playing live; Ivana Ognjanovic's ambitious, electro-acoustical sound picture of a large ship in transit (with voices "from the bottom of the sea"); and the collaborative Endgame with Yalvin Singh (on tablas). This is no facile "gimmick-fest" but a genuine creative journey, with each piece carefully tapped into context, always aware of the key, texture and tempo it's following on from, and where it's heading. Half the fun – and much of the nourishment – of the programme is in the ideas it hatches for similar ventures. Hopefully, Joanna MacGregor already has plenty of those up her sleeve.
Janacek: 'The Diary of One Who Disappeared'/Various solo piano works – Ian Bostridge, Ruby Philogene, Thomas Adès (EMI CDC5 57219 2)
Rameau, Debussy – Alexandre Tharaud (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901754)
Joanna MacGregor: 'Play' (Sound Circus SC007)