Janáček is one of my current favorite composers. Lately his music, along with Martinů and, to a somewhat lesser extent Bartók, is what tickles my gray cells more than others. These two discs are Volumes 1 and 2 in what is apparently going to be a complete traversal of the solo piano music of Janáček.
These discs are very good and, of course, there is the Naxos price. Sound, as usual, is also very good. In fact, I have only one thing that qualifies a full four-star recommendation: Rudolf Firkušný (RCA 60147). Someone said somewhere that the excellent is the enemy of the good. This is the case here. Try as I might, I cannot banish from my memory the excellence of Firkušný's playing on RCA. By comparison, Hlawatsch is a little darker in his interpretation, Firkušný finds more music in the notes and somehow imbues the music with more elan and just plain magic.
If you are not familiar with Janáček's piano music, perhaps you know his orchestral compositions: Taras Bulba and the Sinfonietta are excellent introductions to his sound world. This music sounds "rustic" (whatever that means, though I know it when I hear it) and may remind you of Dvořák. Still, it is definitely NOT Dvořák. His piano music almost makes you want to dance…at least when Firkušný plays it.
Let me try to stress that these Naxos discs are NOT bad. I would rank them slightly above András Schiff's traversal of this music on London/Decca. That set, at more than twice the cost, sounded earth bound and too literal. If you want a good introduction to Janáček's piano music you would not go wrong with the Naxos set.
Still, Firkušný on RCA is so damn good that he is an impossible act to follow. On the other hand, RCA may already have deleted the Firkušný discs. In lieu of that I recommend these fine performances.
Copyright © 1997, Robert Stumpf II