Classical Music on Record: Janacek Piano works

Rudolf Firkusny (piano) with members of the Bavarian Radio SO/ Rafael Kubelik Recorded: 1970-1971 (DG "Originals" 449764-2; two discs)
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Musical tales of the unexpected, some funny, others powerfully atmospheric, and all conveyed in a style that can switch from gaiety to solemnity in a split second. Janacek's fiercely gestural piano sonata 1.X.1905 ("From the Street") commemorates a slain worker who had been campaigning for a Czech university. It's a fabulous piece, volatile and lyrical, yet Janacek burnt the original third movement and threw the rest in the river Vltava. Thankfully, he soon changed his mind (the pianist concerned had made a secret copy), though the finale never made it back to life.

Rudolf Firkusny was a Janacek pupil who balances phrasal freedom with executive fastidiousness, whether in the Sonata or the early Theme and Variations, the potently poetic On the Overgrown Path (where the calm of night is shattered by an owl's malevolent screeching), the reflective In the Mists or the Debussyan Reminiscence - a concise 49 seconds' worth offered here in a "first release" recording. All combine folk-style themes with astringent, even biting modernist harmonies, though the late, mixed- instrumental Capriccio and Concertino could top any bill for zany humour. Try the Capriccio first, with its furtively loitering brass, anachronistically "romantic" harmonies and comic-strip tenor tuba solo. It's rather like Chagall in sound, and Rafael Kubelik's presence ensures that everything flows as naturally as eating or breathing. The superb recordings could have been made yesterday.

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