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Ivo Kahanek: Piano Works.

Ivo Kahanek Piano Works (Janacek, Martinu, Kabelac) Ivo Kahanek--piano. Production: Matous Vlcinsky. Text: Cz., Eng., Gcr., Fr. Recorded: May-Jan 2008, Studio Bohemia Music. Released: 2008. TT: 68:37. DDD. 1 CD Supraphon Music SU 3945-2.


For his latest CD Ivo Kahanek has recorded major piano works by the three most important Czech composers of the 20th century. For more than merely chronologically reasons he starts the CD with Janacek's two-movement, programmatically conceived Sonata in E flat minor (1905), Its two movements (entitled Premonition and Death), were directly inspired by a tragic event in Brno, which the composer then cast in a highly individually stylised form. Janacek was not himself a piano virtuoso and most of his piano works are very difficult to play from the point of view of traditional piano training. His thematically important, often sharply rhythmatised figurations (known as scasovky) have caused particularly serious problems of a purely technical kind even for advanced pianists.

Although in appearance and performance Kahanek is more reminiscent of a romantic virtuosos of Lisztian type, he manages almost surprisingly to exploit his extraordinary skills as a pianist to bring out the distinctive features of the music of individual composers in modern repertoire as well. In the first movement of the Janacek Sonata we might, however take issue with what is in places too grand and "romanticising" a use of pedal, which sometimes deprives the conclusions of some melodic-chord figurations of their typically "Janacekian" terseness and impact. The development of the basic theme and the secondary lyrical idea has the necessarily emotional pull and very clearly articulated urgency, and it is very rare for Kahanek to allow the otherwise marvellous performance effects (from the brilliant sequence of pianissimo to the demonically fast semi-quaver figures in the transition into the second theme) to "drown" the melodic line. This could be praised in a piece by Debussy, but Janacek's expressive style is a long way from French musical impressionism. With the first bars of the second movement (Death), Kahanek has managed to endow his interpretation with an unearthly calm and majesty--entirely in line with his view as given in the interview printed in the CD booklet: "I understand the titles of the movements in their widest, even metaphysical meaning". He builds the emotionally extreme gradation of the central section into a wholly convincing climax unusual in its intensity. I am particularly impressed at the way the pianist's phenomenal technical skills enable him to offer an entirely satisfactory realisation of the extremely difficult, sharply rhythmatised figurations in the left hand (perhaps a depiction of death spasms). In contrast to the intensely dramatic character of Janacek's sonata, Miloslav Kabelac's Eight Preludes of 1956 is introverted, and the emotions here are almost drastically subordinated to the composer's overall architectonic plan. Kabelac's method as a composer found its best application in his grandly conceived symphonies, and his piano preludes are not exactly rewarding from the point of view of traditional classical-romantic instrumental virtuosity; they are pieces in which the composer's theory of rational construction is applied consistently and the freedom of interpretation tolerated to a far greater extent in his earlier stylistic periods is here extremely curtailed by the perfectionist demands of the written part. Even so, we can see that in Kahanek these preludes have found their ideal performer, because with his disciplined virtuosity he manages unobtrusively but effectively to animate and "humanise" what are often very severe or even geometrically cold lines.

Bohuslav Martinu wrote his only Piano sonata at the age of 64 (1954), during his happy stay on the French Riviera. It represents the composer's supreme, synthesising style, which had first emerged strikingly in the preceding year in the Symphonic Fantasies. Externally the sonata keeps to the classic three-movement scheme, but in its rich internal content it can be seen as to a great extent the successful piano counterpart of the composer's late orchestral works. It is a tough nut to crack for any performer, mainly because of its comparative lack of formal transparency and its frequent figurative passages. In Martinu's late music, all the figurations and imaginatively distinctive passages carry a meaning deeper than mere decoration or filling, and at some points they have an unearthly intensity. Here too Kahanek confirms his unique and universal abilities; in his performance not even the less striking places in terms of motif are never pure "stuffing" and never lose their attraction for listeners.

Included on the CD at the end--as a kind of curiosity and "bonus" is the world premiere of three school fugues by Leos Janacek (from the period of his studies in Leipzig), which were only discovered a few years ago and recently printed. The accompanying booklet, which contains quite a lengthy interview with the pianist, is very informative and impressive in terms of graphic design.
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Author:Bajgar, Jindrich
Publication:Czech Music
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Apr 1, 2009
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