Adès Plays Janáček

Janacek cover

JANÁČEK: On an Overgrown Path, Series I & II. Piano Sonata, “From the Street.” In the Mists / Thomas Adès, pno / Signum Classics SIGCD600 (live: London, December 13-15, 2018)

Thomas Adès, the talented British composer, is also a concert pianist and conductor, and this year has seen CD issues of him in both roles. Although his album of Beethoven symphonies is good, it is not unique or particularly special, and with so many competitors out there I chose not to review it, but these works by Janáček, written between1900-1906 although In the Mists dates from 1912), attracted me. They are in the Impressionist style developed by Debussy and Ravel, but with a Czech accent.

The music, at least as Àdes plays it, is rather strange. Each piece begins and ends like a typical late-Romantic-era drawing room piano piece, but in the middle the music becomes more agitated, louder, and more harmonically edgy though never quite breaking loose from its moorings. And Àdes makes the most of these contrasts, almost exploding at the keyboard when those dramatic moments come, which adds to their surprising arrival and departure.

Whether or not one considers these among Janáček’s best music, however, is an entirely subjective decision. I found the music interesting to listen to once, perhaps twice, but in the end not great enough to add to my collection. It’s a bit like listening to Scriabin’s early Préludes, the ones in which he was evidently copying Chopin. Were they not generally issued as part of the complete series, which gets more interesting about halfway through, I probably wouldn’t own them, either.

Kind of a short review by my standards, but truthfully, there’s not much else to say. Some of these pieces are better than others, but all are pretty good. My favorite was the last number in the piano sonata, “From the Street.”

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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