Janacek: Piano Sonata, 1.x.1905; In the Mists; On the Overgrown Path; Reminiscence

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Janacek
LABELS: Somm New Horizons
WORKS: Piano Sonata, 1.x.1905; In the Mists; On the Overgrown Path; Reminiscence
PERFORMER: Charles Owen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 028
The rage and passion that informs Janážek’s ‘From the street’ – the subtitle of his two-movement Piano Sonata inspired by a death during an anti-Czech demonstration in Brno – needs a great deal of dramatic engagement from performers. There is little point in cushioning the hard edges and a wholehearted engagement with the expressive angularity of Janážek’s instrumental writing can pay wonderful benefits as the performance of his First String Quartet by the kampa Quartet issued a couple of years ago shows. Charles Owen certainly responds to the passion in the first movement of the Sonata, but undermines some of its powerful inevitability with unmarked rubato; also, there are times when the more lyrical lines are overwhelmed by the pulsing accompaniment and the secondary material, rich in sentiment, emerges almost as a throwaway. The slow movement – a reaction to death – acquires an impressive momentum, but as a whole…

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His approach in On the Overgrown Path is, by contrast, entirely successful. From the beginning of ‘Our evenings’, he captures the mood of reflective nostalgia tempered by the quirky and sometimes brutish. His refusal to sentimentalise is enormously refreshing and his touch in ‘The Lady of Fry´dek’ little short of magical. There are things to be learned from his interpretative stance in all these pieces and the more broadly conceived movements of In the Mists.

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If overall in this repertoire FirkuŽny´ remains the most richly rewarding performer available on disc, Owen’s readings of On the Overgrown Path and In the Mists are ones to which I shall return. Jan Smaczny