Leo Janáček's "The Diary of One Who Disappeared," half chamber opera, half song cycle, is based on a literary hoax whose origins have just recently been discovered. Everyone – including Janáček – thought an obscure "unlettered son of the soil" had written the poems, but in 1997 a historian discovered a letter in which the poet Josef Kalda bragged that he had penned them. No matter, for Janáček's crafting of these romantic songs of yearing is brilliant. In VI, for example, the poet/plowman chides his oxen in harsh staccato notes to keep their eyes from the elder trees. Then the song abruptly shifts tone to a tender portamento reverie, as he tries to keep his own eyes from the branches through which he can see his beloved. The piano ends the song with the same driving phrases as it began. The beloved enters the cycle in IX and has a seductive dialog with the poet, who is now addressed as "Janáček." (Apparently the composer wanted to make it perfectly clear to Kamila Stöslová, his own unrequited love, who the songs were about.)
Tenor Ian Bostridge creates the same sense of frustration and awe as he did in Schubert's "Die Schöne Mullerin" cycle six years ago, although his voice has grown less callow over the years. While the interchange between him and sultry mezzo-soprano Ruby Philogene generates smoldering heat, the distant chorus describing the seduction is cool and detatched because it is miked too subtly. In fact, whenever the chorus appears, you can barely hear it. Otherwise, this is an excellent recording of a long-neglected work. Earlier versions of two of the songs are included, providing some historical interest. Pianist Thomas Adès performs the Moravian Folksongs with the same honest and careful workmanship that he applies as accompanist to the song cycle. There is not much idiosyncrasy in his playing, yet there is style as he faithfully records Janáček's lyrical, rhythmic, and sometimes humorous pieces, most of which are charming miniatures less than a minute long. A final piano cycle includes more popular pieces, including the somber "In Memorium," the ten-second "The Golden Ring," and one puzzling sacred song.
Copyright © 2002, Peter Bates