Janacek: Violin Sonata; Capriccio for Piano and Wind; Concertino; Pohádka; Presto in E minor

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Janacek
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Violin Sonata; Capriccio for Piano and Wind; Concertino; Pohádka; Presto in E minor
PERFORMER: Mikhail Rudy (piano), Pierre Amoyal (violin), Gary Hoffman (cello) Paris National Opera Orchestra/ Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 55585 2
Hardly a note of Janácek’s output could be described as abstract. Underlying nearly all his instrumental music are programmes – Russian folk myth in the Pohádka (Fairy-tale) for cello and piano, or a response to contemporary events in the Violin Sonata, when Janácek was looking forward to his country’s independence from Austria at the start of the First World War. With music as vivid as this there are no half measures in performance. While full of interesting and occasionally arresting features, neither of these new issues quite hits the mark.

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Mikhail Rudy and Gary Hoffman show every sign of passionate involvement in the Fairy-tale, but occasionally this turns to histrionics and a dry, hard-edged sound makes for some unpleasant listening. In the same piece, Jedlicková and Fukacová are at the other end of the spectrum: often supplying beautiful playing, but not always characterising convincingly. This is true of much of this two-disc set which, incidentally, is not quite the ‘complete works for violin, cello and piano’ proclaimed – a few smaller pieces could be added for both violin and piano.

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On both CDs the most satisfying performances are of the Violin Sonata: Pierre Amoyal and Mikhail Rudy find impressionist depths in the work and Josef Suk plays with enormous authority and beauty of tone. Curiously enough, that great Janácekian, Charles Mackerras, is not at his best directing the Capriccio and Concertino. He gives the music an interesting Stravinskian edge, and Rudy plays with enormous panache, especially in the Capriccio; unfortunately, the wind and brass soloists don’t always measure up, providing some spongy ensemble and some poorly focused solos.