Friday, February 19, 2010

leos janacek | piano works

right up through the concertino for piano and small orchestra, this collection asserts the greener side of janacek's work — the folk influences present though rather muted within the romantic conceptions of elegiac tunefulness. much of the "on an overgrown path" suite, with its gorgeously uncertain melodies that ache to find graceful cadence through all manner of unpredictably shifting rhythms, feels like it could sound at home on a rinky dink music box. something you might pick up in a musty roadside antique store out of curiosity, only to have to put it back down out of your own sense of impudence at disturbing such long lost sorrows. the delicacy of the harmonies makes constant the illusion that the forms are on the verge of disintegration; that the same unhurried hand that formed the lines may lose its muse in the fog of forgetfulness at any moment. but rather than just letting those lines drift further and further away from their source, janacek forces the pianist to take them through awful lunges at it; lunges that never actually bring them any closer to that which they seek. written in the wake of his daughter's death, this may be an entirely apt musical allegory for the composer's grieving process. the other excellent solo piano pieces contained on this double disc seem to follow a similar emotional/dynamic course.

then, once we reach the concertino, the pastoral becomes less a stage for the interpersonal and more of an alien spaciousness for the single mind to wander unsearchingly. in the piu mosso second movement, there are small delights to be found here and there, but they seem to emanate from the feeling of indifference to one's disorientation established in the first movement. the third movement—which begins with panicky puffs of brass and an agitated dance-like melody on the piano, shortly resolves into a delirious serenity expressed through sparkling piano and strings and circular melodies from the clarinet, and then starts to slide back toward the initial state of alarm—may suggest the experience one often has when out in the wilderness: first tremulousness, then elation, then the apprehension that one cannot exist exclusively in either one for very long before reality sets in. fittingly, the fourth movement combines all these various states into an unstable mass of conflicting impulses. i'm ever grateful for janacek's grasp of modernity, the progressiveness of his geometry never forsaking the humane.

last on the menu, the oddity that is janacek's cappricio. to solve the problem of writing for a one-/left-handed pianist, the composer arranged that player's part against a small brass ensemble + a flute. the resulting four movements are fascinating at every turn, although they don't seem very substantial taken as wholes. nonetheless, at the end of this almost two hour set, the cappricio somehow seems like a long-awaited exhalation and a return to the comforting terrain of emotional (but never psychological) equanimity. hear.

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