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Short tone-poems and autobiographical fragments written in the shadow of his success as an opera composer, most of Janacek’s solo piano music takes place in an intimate arena. The exception to this rule was his sonata 1.X.1905 ‘From the street’, which was Janacek’s response, white-hot with fury, to the shooting of a young demonstrator for Czech independence by the Habsburg police.

Janacek’s musical language may in some ways be cognate with Bartók’s, and his effects may have something in common with those of Musorgsky and Debussy, but it is intensely individual and draws heavily on folk styles. On an Overgrown Path follows what Janáˇcek himself described as a path that leads to ‘memories, including the most ancient ones… so sweet one would like to think there is no end to them’. And the memory that rings most poignantly through that work was the death of his daughter Olga. ‘Unutterable Anguish’ and ‘In Tears’ are just two of the pieces in which his pain comes to the fore.

Since this oeuvre fits neatly onto a single CD, pianists are often drawn to record it, and Thomas Adès’ account is graceful, if at times over-cerebral. I prefer András Schiff’s on ECM – for him, the piano weeps and sings from the heart.

MICHAEL CHURCH Read the full review on Agora Classica


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