Janáček • Klein
For those who know Janácek from his later operas, in which the heights and depths of the human condition are expressed with such consummate mastery, his early piano cycle, On an Overgrown Path, may come as something of a surprise. Composed in the early years of the 20th century, this collection of miniatures shows Janácek exploring the programmatic character piece beloved of the Czechs in this period. If occasionally he approaches the idiom of his friend Dvorák, his own pungent and volatile musical personality rarely drops out of sight. Interestingly, some of the earlier numbers, like ‘The Madonna of Frydek’, were originally conceived for harmonium, but all work well on the piano.
Ivo Kahánek presents the published collection, two from a projected second series along with the versions of other associated piece. His very well recorded performances are direct, at best cultivating a beautifully understated virtuosity, though at times prosaic, notably in the earlier pieces; certainly he does not approach the magisterial qualities of Firkusny in this repertoire. His reading of Gideon Klein’s fine Piano Sonata, composed by the 23-year-old in Terezín, is quite simply excellent and has a persuasive breadth that at times seems to be missing from his reading of the Janácek.