Janáček: Solo Piano

Thomas Adès (piano) (Signum Classics)

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Janáček
Solo Piano – On An Overgrown Path; Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 in E flat major, JW VIII – ‘From the Street’; In the Mists
Thomas Adès (piano)
Signum Classics SIGCD600   66:50 mins

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Janáček’s most substantial piano music comes from the middle part of his career before Prague fully recognised his genius and before the world ‘discovered’ him through Jenůfa. While the 15 compositions entitled On an Overgrown Path in some ways link him to a tradition of character pieces cultivated by his Czech predecessors, they have an explosive originality. Thomas Adès’s account eschews sentimentality and refuses to duck the suppressed violence that occasionally erupts, notably in the first and eighth numbers.  His care shown over Janáček’s inner part writing is often revelatory, and he seems very much at one with the near improvisatory nature of these pieces. There is perhaps less delicacy in his approach to the more elusive soundworld of In the Mists, but his performance is impressive for its clarity and cohesion.

Janáček’s Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 had a fraught history. The composer destroyed the final movement and the first two only survived through a copy made by the pianist who premiered it. The title refers to a clash between troops and the Czech community of Brno in which a young man was injured and died. Adès delivers the overt rage of the first movement admirably, but the more contemplative second movement lacks a sense of catharsis. A more complete performance, aided by a less hard-edged recorded sound, is to be had from Jan Bartoš on Supraphon, but in the two sets of character pieces Adès’s approach is undoubtedly rewarding.

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Jan Smaczny