Never underestimate the potency of newspaper cuttings: for the explosive creativity of Leos Janacek, they were blue touch-paper. Chancing to read a poem-sequence from a supposedly self-educated young ploughman (the programme note suggests they were actually by a journalist), Janacek found himself identifying madly with its chronicle of helpless infatuation and joyous fulfilment – but then he himself was helplessly infatuated with a girl 40 years his junior.
To modern minds, Diary of One Who Disappeared has a risibly pre-Freudian naivety. Getting the come-on from a seductive gypsy girl in the forest – "Someone is waiting for me there/ If only she would turn to stone!" – the boy has a positively maidenly concern for his virginity, whose loss he piteously laments. The drama, which ends in outcast connubial bliss, is all in the boy's head, but for Janacek it furnished the basis for an extraordinarily intense drama employing just two solo singers, a pianist, and a tiny offstage chorus. And when the pianist is Andras Schiff, and that renowned Britten specialist Philip Langridge is the ploughman, the force of this drama knows no bounds, even in the confines of the Wigmore Hall.
While Schiff provided an underscoring of angular muscularity, Langridge launched into his tale with a wild and tremulous tone; we weren't in a concert hall, we were in the theatre. Following the dizzy twists and turns of Janacek's musical imagination, the pair struck sparks off each other until the emergence of mezzo Hannah-Esther Minutillo. Her clear and focused sound was the ideal foil to Langridge's; when the offstage chorus added their voices, with the piano rippling pensively above, the effect was as bewitching as in any Janacek opera.
The rest of the evening consisted of more conventional pleasures, and began with Schiff playing Janacek's On an Overgrown Path. The ruminative melancholy of this musical poem-sequence was here clad by Schiff's warmth and firmness of touch in a lovely range of colours; the Smetana polkas that followed were at once atmospheric and decorous. Minutillo's delivery of Dvorak's "Gypsy Songs" was graceful, but Schiff's dazzling effects – on a very powerful piano – put her silvery voice in the shade.Reuse content