Haas, Je?ek, Schulhoff, Burian, Jan‡cek & Martinu?

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COMPOSERS: Burian,Haas,Janácek & Martinu?,Je?ek,Schulhoff
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Scene
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Czech Avant-Garde 1918-1938
WORKS: Works by Haas, Ježek, Schulhoff, Burian, Janácek & MartinuÞ
PERFORMER: Steffen Schleiermacher (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 613 1158-2
From the title, you might think you’re in for a blast of contemporary Czech music, but in fact this enterprising collection covers the inter-war period when, in many ways, the Czech avant-garde was rather more intriguing than it is today. Apart from some miniatures by Janážek, the music is from the ‘bright young things’ working in Prague in the Twenties and Thirties, clearly fired up by the arrival of jazz and ragtime. So fired up, in fact, that works like Ježek’s Bugatti-step and Equatorial Rag are so close to the style that they can be classed as jazz compositions rather than imitation or pastiche. Schulhoff’s five Pittoresken, while revealing an insider’s grasp, take the idiom into new dimensions, including an anticipation of Cage’s 4’33”; similarly, Martinu’s contribution shows the composer searching for extensions of jazz.

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Not all the pieces are jazz-inflected: parts of Pavel Haas’s Op. 13 Suite and Ježek’s Bagatelles have a distinctly neo-classical profile. Steffen Schleiermacher deserves congratulations, not just for putting together such interesting repertoire, but for his own enthusiastic advocacy as a performer. Without fail he gets inside each of these pieces, often with thrilling results. Jan Smaczny