Janacek: The Diary of One Who Disappeared; Piano Sonata 1.x.1905

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Janacek
LABELS: Supraphon
WORKS: The Diary of One Who Disappeared; Piano Sonata 1.x.1905
PERFORMER: Peter Straka (tenor), Dagmar Pecková (contralto), Marián Lapsansky (piano); Members of the Prague Chamber Choir
CATALOGUE NO: SU 3378-2
Nothing Janácek composed in his maturity could be described as conventional, least of all this song cycle. With a cast of two characters and women’s chorus, not to mention an emotionally charged plot in which a youth goes from uncertainty in the face of rising sexual passion, through seduction to a final confrontation with his changed life in which he decides to abscond with his new found love, it seems to cry out for an operatic approach. In fact, the rare stagings I have seen confirm its true nature as a concert work whose poignant, contemplative episodes evaporate in the theatre. This does not mean performances can risk anything less than full commitment.

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This new version from Supraphon is handsome from many points of view. As the gypsy who turns the young man’s head, Pecková is attractive, but lacks the warmth and seductive mystery of the part. Lapsansky provides a conscientious reading of the demanding piano part, and yet again, there is something rather dry about his approach (reflected also in his performance of Janácek’s Piano Sonata also included). As the young man, Straka sings with plangent clarity and superb diction, but at the crucial moment of farewell as he turns to the open road he seems oddly detached and his final triumphant roar, that Zefka waits for him, though strenuous enough, does not really register emotionally. Though certainly estimable as a performance, this new performance does not match the sheer colour and involvement of Gedda, Soukupová and Pálenicek’s 1984 recording. Jan Smaczny