LEOS JANÁCEK: The Piano
(CAvi-music; 2 CDs)
Leos Janácek's Sinfonietta and Glagolitic Mass and operas ranging from "Jenufa" to "The Makropoulos Case" are well established in the classical repertoire. But his piano music needs more advocates. On this two-CD set from Cologne-based CAvi-music, Luxembourg pianist Cathy Krier plays the "Variations for Zdenka" (1880), the "Moravian Dances" (1888-1889), and the "Album for Kamila Stösslová" (1927-1928) as well as the relatively familiar Sonata 1. X. 1905 and the suites "On an Overgrown Path" and "In the Mists," providing an overview of the Czech composer's development.
Krier steers her own path between sentimental and spiky, with a bright, forthright tone and an approach that underlines the music's debt to Schumann and Brahms. In the sonata and "In the Mists," she's not as jaggedly idiomatic as Ivan Moravec, but she does nicely by the tolling bell in the sonata's "Death" second movement. You can hear the fluttering leaves and chattering swallows of "On an Overgrown Path." And the "Miniatures" include a lovely Christmas carol, the 40-second "Jesus Christ Is Born."
The booklet, however, offers only a performer bio and interview. Nowhere do you learn that the composer destroyed the sonata's "Funeral March" third movement and threw the first two movements into the Vltava. (They survived.) Or that Zdenka was his wife and Stösslová the woman he was passionately attracted to in later life. Or that the bird call that haunts the final movements of "On an Overgrown Path" and "In the Mists" is that of the tawny owl. Janácek might not need a better advocate than Krier, but he does need an informative one.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.