Janáček – Frandsen – Brahms – Galya Kolarova – Adam Stadnicki – CR6041
£9.99 – £23.99
“Kolarova’s characterful account of Janácek’s Piano Sonata ‘1.X.1905’, ‘From the street’, such an original masterpiece is so well played. The recording quality, as always from this company, is first-class in every respect. A most worthwhile issue”
“La Prèmiere” is a recording presenting the first compositions for cello and piano by Leoš Janacek, John Frandsen and Johannes Brahms, and the first and only Sonata for solo piano by Leoš Janacek – a musical journey stretching over a period of about 150 years.
”Once upon a time there lived Tsar Berendyey, who had a beard down to his knees. He had been married for three years and lived with his wife in perfect harmony; but God still hadn’t given them any children, which grieved the Tsar terribly. One day the Tsar felt the need to inspect his kingdom. He bade farewell to his consort and for eight months he was on his travels…”
Pohádka (from Czech: A Tale) is a composition by Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) based on an epic poem by the Russian author Vasily Zhukovsky (1783-1852) entitled ”The Tale of Tsar Berendyey”. It was composed at a difficult time for Janáček, in the years following the death of his daughter Olga, with whom he shared a love for Russian culture and literature.
Pohádka is a three movement piece which aims to evoke the drama and atmosphere of the Russian legend, which is also the basis for Stravinsky’s ballet “The Firebird”. The composition presents scenes from the story rather than being a complete description of the tale. The cello part represents the young Prince Ivan, and the lyrical piano portrays the beautiful Marya, daughter of Kashchey the Deathless, ruler of the Underworld.
The piece dates from 1910 and several different versions existed during Janáček’s lifetime, although only the last one is usually performed today.
Pohádka is the only published composition for cello and piano by Janáček.
“The white marble of the steps of the Besední dům in Brno. The ordinary labourer František Pavlík falls, stained with blood. He came merely to champion higher learning and has been slain by cruel murderers.”
Janáček’s Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 “From the Street” was intended as a reaction to the death of a worker named František Pavlík (1885–1905), who on 1 October 1905 was bayoneted to death during demonstrations in support for a Czech university in Brno. In the work, Janáček expresses his disapproval of the violent death of the young carpenter.
The Sonata had three movements but Janáček, racked with self-doubt, cut out the third movement, a funeral march, and burned it shortly before the first public performance of the piece in 1906 with Ludmila Tučková at the piano. He was not satisfied with the rest of the composition either and later tossed the manuscript of the two remaining movements into the river Vltava. He later commented with regret about his impulsive action: “And it floated along on the water that day, like white swans”. The composition remained lost until 1924 (the year of Janáček’s seventieth birthday), when Tučková announced that she had secretly copied the first two movements.
A kaleidoscope is a tube-shaped optical instrument with mirrors inclined to each other in an angle, so that small pieces of colored glass at the end of the tube are seen as symmetric patterns when viewed from the other end. Rotation of the tube causes motion of the glass pieces, resulting in new patterns.
Kaleidoscope for cello and piano by John Frandsen (b.1956) is a lyrical sonata that creates similar ever-changing musical patterns. The piece is based on musical material from John Frandsen’s chamber opera “A Dolls’s House”, in which Galya Kolarova and Adam Stadnicki took part.
Kaleidoscope was written for Galya and Adam and was premiered in 2017.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) appreciated the cello’s qualities as a melodic voice and had studied the instrument seriously in his youth.
Brahms composed the first two movements of his first Cello Sonata in E minor Op 38 in 1862, when the composer was not yet thirty, with the finale being added in 1865. This cello sonata is the earliest published work for solo instrument and piano by Brahms.
Brahms entitled the sonata “Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello” (for piano and cello) and said that the piano “should be a partner – often a leading, often a watchful and considerate partner – but it should under no circumstances assume a purely accompanying role”.
This Sonata is like a homage to the past and to J. S. Bach – the principal theme of the first movement is based on Contrapunctus 3 and 4 and the subject of the fugue in the last movement takes its main theme from Contrapunctus 13 from “The Art of Fugue”.
The second movement is a menuet – a dance from an earlier era, containing modal elements reminiscent of Renaissance harmony.
Galya Kolarova and Adam Stadnicki ©2018
Review: Music Web International
The most significant thing about this disc is the new work by the prolific Danish composer John Frandsen, his Kaleidoscope – Sonata for cello and prepared piano. The title is derived from the optical toy and suggests that his work contains ever changing patterns. The words ‘prepared piano’ sparked memories of Henry Cowell and John Cage, who required objects (cutlery sometimes) to be placed against the strings, or cardboard or cloth to be rested on a range of strings, and for the strings to be played directly by the pianist by-passing the keyboard. Since no information is in the liner notes or on Frandsen’s own website I asked for more about his ‘prepared piano’, the main reason being that even careful listening only gave hints of abnormal sounds from Galya Kolarova’s Steinway D. With her acting as intermediary I received a rapid and very informative response from the composer. Apparently a piece of rubber is placed between the strings of the lowest G. This, says Frandsen “creates throughout the entire piece a damped percussive effect every time this note is hit – like dark sounds of door-knocking (perhaps from a demon?)”. He goes on to note that, “In the vivace section (from bar 218) a piece of parchment is placed on the strings of the middle section of the piano. This creates a crisp and fragile sound equivalent to the cello’s sul ponticello estremo in the same passage. Both instruments struggle to make the music sound. The cello part says ‘Ghost Vivaldi’, so the idea is to create that kind of musical atmosphere in both instruments.” And finally, “In the tranquillo sections (bar 131 and at the end) the pianist keeps the pedal down all the time. The sound becomes extremely resonant, and the notes are not played on the keyboard, instead the pianist plucks the strings inside the piano (pizzicato). The idea is here to create a spatial and ‘timeless’ mood – in combination with the cello’s harmonics.” So, back to my initial comment about hearing only hints of strange sounds. Thanks to the absence of cutlery in particular, John Frandsen made only the subtlest of ‘preparations’ to the piano and in the context of an already very delicate tracery of sounds, particularly from the cellist, these pianistic effects could very easily pass unnoticed. The damped low G is noticeable once one knows to listen for it and the pizzicato piano strings make the faintest contribution towards the centre of the piece. But Kaleidoscope is not just about sound effects, it is a genuinely attractive work continually giving new patterns to the attentive listener. This is “modern” music no doubt, but it is never cacophonous and it does not outstay its welcome in its twenty minute duration. Colin Attwell’s recording is a model of clarity, which is especially valuable in a work full of tiny sonic details.
Though the Frandsen is the best reason for purchasing this BDA, or its CD equivalent, the other two works make up by far the larger part of the issue. Janáček’s well known early cello piece Pohádka is in three short movements. Originally Janáček planned to call his work The Story of Czar Berendey, of his son the Czarevich Ivan, of the intrigues of Kashchey the Immortal and the wisdom of the Princess Marya, Kashchey’s daughter. Perhaps wisely, since the work would have been very much longer, he opted to illustrate just a handful of episodes from this tale, but alert readers will have noticed that this has much in common with the story chosen by Stravinsky for his great early ballet The Firebird, though Stravinsky was dealing with a hybrid of more than one fairy story. Janáček’s first movement Con moto – Andante can be seen as a musical portrayal of Ivan and his bride and uses melodic material akin to parts of his earlier opera Jenůfa. The remaining two movements maintain this dialogue structure, says Jaroslav Vogel (in his substantial biography of the composer), in which it seems that the cello is Ivan and the piano his princess. The piece is certainly endlessly beautiful and in typical Janáček style it always sounds like a conversation. The present soloists are fully up to the task and their performance is very enjoyable.
Galya Kolarova gets a chance to strut her stuff alone in Janáček’s Piano Sonata, the one with the curious name Sonata 1.X.1905 “From the Street”. Just as in Pohádka the composer has descriptive aims. The work was inspired by violent events on 1st October 1905 leading to the bayoneting and subsequent death of a protesting worker on the streets of Brno. Janáček wrote the three movement piece in a state of agitation after these events, but by the time a performance was scheduled he had strong second-thoughts and at the premiere grabbed the work from the music stand before the final movement could be performed. He threw the manuscript in the river. It is only thanks to the performer at that premiere that two movements, which she had copied, survived. Janáček later relented and allowed performances of these appropriately named Presentiment and Death movements. Though not very pianistic, this is still very recognisably his music and well worth the occasional outing.
The Brahms Sonata is much more mainstream and the competition from the stars of the cello firmament is substantial. Whilst there is no doubting the skill and musicianship on display the work sounds comparatively underpowered. I made the, possibly mistaken, decision to listen to one of Jacqueline Du Pré’s recordings and compared to her passionate outpouring Stadnicki just sounds too restrained. Galya Kolarova seems more willing to let go in the Brahms and there are times when the cello comes close to being submerged. Knowing how carefully the engineering balances are always made in Claudio productions I feel confident that this reflects the reality of the performance. The note does point out that Brahms intends the players to be equal partners but, up against Du Pré and Barenboim, this is very musical and often beautiful, but lacks passion.
Review: Musical Opinion
This is an interesting collection, very well played indeed and flawlessly recorded, and if at first the connection between the three composers may seem faint, the music selected comprises their first works for cello and piano, as well as the sole piano sonata of Janácek.Consequently, the repertoire chosen for this CD runs
counter to generally accepted norms, but not all music-lovers are necessarily collectors of similar repertoire; surely the majority are inter – ested in listening to fine performances of great music, which is what they get here. Frandsen’s Sonata – entitled ‘Kalei do – scope’ – is for cello and prepared piano, which restricts regular performance, and one has to say that the material does not truly require this kind of colouration: the transit of the music would appear to work perfectly well on a ‘normal’ instrument, unencumbered by outside interference. If the ‘colour’ of this work adds little to the argument, the performances of Janácek’s very rarely heard three-movement Pohádka (A Tale) and of Brahms’s first Sonata, in E minor, are very fine indeed.
Kolarova’s characterful account ofJanácek’s Piano Sonata ‘1.X.1905’, ‘From the street’, such an original masterpiece is so well played. The recording quality, as always from this company, is first-class in every respect. A most worthwhile issue.