Smetana: Czech Dances; Bagatelles and Impromptus

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COMPOSERS: Smetana
LABELS: Unicorn-Kanchana
WORKS: Czech Dances; Bagatelles and Impromptus
PERFORMER: Radoslav Kvapil (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DKP (CD) 9139 DDD
Piano music makes up by far the greater part of Smetana’s instrumental works. He was a piano virtuoso and much of his music for the instrument reflects this. The present anthology, the second in a new series of Czech piano music from Unicorn-Kanchana, focuses on the beginning and end of Smetana’s career. The Bagatelles and Impromptus of 1844 have more than the occasional echo of Chopin and Mendelssohn, but there is a great deal which looks forward to the questing originality of Smetana’s maturity.

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Fascinating as they are, these relatively innocent jottings barely compare to the two sets of Czech Dances from the late 1870s: an anthology of national dance-types – the first four are examples of the composer’s beloved Polka – these dances are more consciously Czech than Dvorák’s pan-Slavic Slavonic Dances of similar vintage. They are also more inward-looking, at times even disturbing. When writing these dances, Smetana was deaf and suffering increasingly from the depredations of syphilis. Any performance needs not only energy and virtuosity, but also insight. Radoslav Kvapil brings all these qualities to bear in performances which continually capture and hold the ear. While not ideal, the piano sound is appreciably better than on the first volume in the series. Jan Smaczny