SMETANA Piano Works
In 2005 Jitka Čechová launched what promises to be the most comprehensive Smetana cycle on disc. Ten years later she reaches Vol 7, a two-disc collection that mostly features early works recorded for the first time. Some of them are extremely interesting. For example, given the E flat Notturno’s contrapuntal accompaniment and the D minor Rondo’s brusque, full-bodied chordal textures, one might describe those works as prototypes of Brahms’s late-period Intermezzos (Brahms, of course, was nine years Smetana’s junior). By contrast, the five multi-themed 1845 Marches evoke Schubert’s longueurs, if not his twists of genius. Four student fugues sound like, well, excellent generic student fugues (the D minor is pure Handel). Of the three Sonatenform movements, the A major holds interest for its asymmetrical phrases which rise and fall in unpredictable patterns.
Čechová gooses the variations on the Czech folksong ‘Sowing the millet’ with perky accents, highlighted inner voices and some truly explosive octaves. It contrasts with the more classically poised and straightforwardly incisive recording in Vera Repková’s pioneering ‘complete’ 1952 53 Smetana cycle (CPO, 11/89). Likewise, Čechová’s slower rendition of the A minor Etude is less overtly virtuoso than Repková’s, yet better characterises the composer’s ‘Liedform’ subtitle.
No quirky detail of the sprawling, early and ambitious 30 minute G minor Sonata goes unnoticed on Cˇechová’s watch, from the speech-like phrasing of the first movement’s dolce passages to the sustained and fluid precision of the Presto finale’s difficult rapid two-against-three figurations. In sum, a fascinating and excellently produced instalment of an important cycle.