Smetana Czecg Dances, played by Garrick Ohlsson

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COMPOSERS: Smetana
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Smetana
WORKS: Czech Dances, Books 1 & 2; On the seashore – A reminiscence
PERFORMER: Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Hyperion CDA 68062

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If Smetana had not turned to opera in the 1860s, we would certainly know him for his piano music. From his early teens, he produced a steady stream of piano works ranging from variations and fantasias to dances and some astonishingly imaginative programmatic pieces. He also had a strong profile as a performer in Prague. Something of the nature of Smetana’s playing is evident in On the seashore, a reminiscence of Liszt-like brilliance of the lapping of waves on the Swedish coast, which Garrick Ohlsson delivers with seemingly effortlessness virtuosity.

Book 1 of Czech Dances, from 1879, consists of four polkas, Smetana’s favourite dance. Notwithstanding the essential simplicity of their form, Smetana imbues them with considerable sophistication. The first has a musing, reflective quality captured beautifully by Ohlsson, and the joyous effervescence of the right hand figuration in the second is suitably dazzling. The dances in Book 2 are more wide ranging in their exploration of national dance types and are unfailingly charming, but they also have much subtlety. Ohlsson’s performances are consistently attractive; just occasionally, for instance in the ‘Furiant’ of the second set, there might be greater rhythmic nuance, but this beautifully recorded issue will certainly not disappoint.

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Jan Smaczny