JANÁCEK On an Overgrown Path. In the Mists (Zoltán Fejérvári)
Zoltán Fejérvári, a native of Budapest still in his early thirties, won the 2017 Montreal Competition and was a Borletti-Buitoni fellow. A student of Rita Wagner and Dénes Várjon, he is now a member of the chamber music faculty at the Liszt Academy. His new Piano Classics disc of the piano music of Leoš Janáček is the most sensitive and deeply probative recording of the Czech master I have heard.
Janáček’s solo piano music occupies a relatively small corner of his legacy. Save for an early set of variations, all of it was written over the course of a scant dozen years, between 1901 and 1912. Far from virtuoso in the conventional sense, its means are nevertheless consistently appropriate to its ends. As a body of work, its unique musical content more than justifies the vital place it holds in the current repertory. Apart from the posthumous Intimate Sketches, Fejérvári plays all the mature works with a sure grasp of Janáček’s idiomatic style, drawing on a carefully calibrated spectrum of touch and, more importantly, a wealth of imagination.
The gentle redolence of reminiscence pervades Fejérvári’s performance of Book 1 of On an Overgrown Path. Each self-contained miniature has the shimmer of a burnished gem. Rather than emphasising the folk elements that unify the sequence, Fejérvári chooses to suggest them, lending the whole a delicate, dreamlike quality. In the Mists is more extrovert but no less atmospheric. In the second piece, Molto adagio, Fejérvári’s silvery, bell-like sound seems the perfect match for Janáček’s mercurial flights of fantasy. The concluding Presto wraps up the suite in a delirium of dissonance and lightning figuration.
Following these Impressionistic musical evocations, the Sonata 1.X.1905 seems like a plunge into heroic drama of cinematic intensity. The nervous energy of the first movement, ‘Presentiment’, is almost palpable, while ‘The Death’ skilfully suggests both shock and disbelief, before dissolving into inconsolable grief. Fejérvári’s performance achieves a gripping power, without resorting to melodrama or over-playing. After Janáček’s depiction of political tragedy, Book 2 of On an Overgrown Path, the concluding cuts on the disc, comes as a welcome antidote.
These deliciously understated performances reward repeated listening. I look forward to hearing more of the purity and imagination of Fejérvári’s piano playing.