Much of Janáček’s music suggests quick reflexes prodded into spontaneous activity, as in such a work as The Wolf’s Tale for soprano solo, female chorus and piano, composed in 1916 and clearly prophetic of the Glagolitic Mass of a decade or so later. Reinbert de Leeuw and Collegium Vocale Gent are masters of tonal shading: whether attending to top or to internal lines they achieve a near-on three-dimensional effect, in the earlier choral pieces and the 19 tangy miniatures that make up Řííkadla (‘Nursery Rhymes’, 1926), some of them merely seconds long. The jaunty introduction, with its spiky instrumental writing (an approximate cross between Stravinsky’s Les noces, which preceded it, and Martinů’s Bouquet of Flowers, which came later), complete with drum, sets the scene but offers hardly a clue to the enormous expressive range of this delightful sequence.
Perhaps the highlight of the disc is Reinbert de Leeuw’s instrumental reworking of the incomplete but highly dramatic piano sonata 1.X.1905 (two of what were originally three movements), also known as From the Street, written as a tribute to a worker named František Pavlík, who on October 1, 1905, was bayoneted during demonstrations in support of a Czech university in Brno. The scoring is for string quartet, double bass, single woodwinds plus horn and – here’s the stroke of genius – an accordion, which takes up the opening theme, the horn offering an immediate response, the woodwinds and strings coming out in fervent support of their colleagues. De Leeuw does a beautiful job with the solemn second movement, ‘Death’.
Then there’s the animal-inspired Concertino for piano, two violins, viola, clarinet, horn and bassoon, music that de Leeuw and Het Collectief excel in, their keenness of attack (eg in the second-movement duet for clarinet and piano – a depiction of a ‘fidgety squirrel’). Superb playing and singing combined with fine sound make this an absorbing, revealing and musically representative programme.