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Janacek: The Diary of One Who Disappeared
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BOSTRIDGE IAN / ADES THOMAS
Listening to the music of Leos Janácek has some similarities to spending time with a small child. It demands your full attention. The music is gloriously unpredictable, anarchic, free-spirited and original. Every now and then it comes up with something remarkably profound, but nor is it afraid of naïvety.
There are 46 tracks on this disc, ranging in length from only 12 seconds to just under four minutes. This incredible compression has less to do with economy of means than with Janácek's habit of expressing each passing impression and emotion in his music. The 12 second piece (a piano miniature), for example, is an outpouring of passion to his beloved Kamila Stösslová written several days before the composers death. Entitled 'The Golden Ring', it encapsulates the urgency of the old man's unconsummated longing for the illicit love of Stösslová, a much woman much younger than Janácek and another man's wife.
Stösslová was also Janácek's inspiration for the song cycle which makes up the majority of this disc, 'The Diary of One Who Disappeared'. Like Schubert's 'Winterreise', this cycle is based on a set of pastoral love poems but there the similarities end. Where 'Winterreise's landscape is cold and dead, 'The Diary's is sultry and full of the smell of ripening wheat; where Schubert's hero simply pines for the distant beloved, Janáceks not only consummates his love but shares the singing with his lover. There's a wonderful moment at the end of the cycle where the poet, who has disgraced himself with a gypsy girl, laments that "He who has gone astray must suffer for his sins," to music in which Janácek struggles to conceal a mood of jubilation beneath a very surface-deep penitence.
Janácek won his fame as an opera composer, and in this cycle he never fails to capture the dramatic possibilities of the text. Even his instrumental music tends to be built around a series of expressive gestures, with the musical structure generated from the moment upwards. So don't expect polite, well-rounded stanzas in this song cycle any more than you would from the cast of Eastenders. Instead you get all the violent changes of direction of real life, compressed into aphoristic utterances. The effect can be alarming, but never boring.
Tenor Ian Bostridge, pianist Thomas Adès and mezzo-soprano Ruby Philogène offer rapt and faithful performances, although Philogène could do with being a bit more seductive in the role of Zefka the temptress.
The disc includes a set of Moravian Folksongs in piano transcriptions as well as a miscellaneous collection of piano pieces, and earlier versions of two songs from 'The Diary' as fillers. --Matthew Shorter
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Janácek's 'The Diary of One Who Disappeared' is related to his operas in the dramatic intensity of the writing. Composed as his only song cycle the work is designated 'song cycle for mezzo-soprano, tenor, female chorus & piano' but in reality it is primarily a work for tenor and piano. In the hands of Ian Bostridge, whose Czech pronunciation is wholly convincing, the plight of the young man who leaves both family and town behind to follow the love for a gypsy is full of folk melodies and intense passion. Brilliant composer/conductor/pianist Thomas Adés provides the sensitive collaboration and the two are joined by mezzo Ruby Philogene as the gypsy and as part of the three voice female chorus offstage along with Diane Atherton and Deryn Edwards. This is a deeply moving work and the performance is first rate.
Filling out the recital Thomas Adés performs Janácek's works for piano, including excerpts from 'Intimate Sketches' and 'Moravian Folk songs'. His playing is subtle, intuitive and he finds all the quirky rhythms and soulful melodies inherent in Janácek's writing. Adés continues to be an outstanding piano soloist as well as one of the most important composers today. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, February 06
As a song cycle (if we count it as one) I am prepared to defend the claim that it is rivaled only by Die Schöne Müllerin. It also requires something of the same qualities from the performers (although Janacek's songs require a different set of means). And Ian Bostridge does indeed manage to create the same mixture of emotion, spirit, power and reflection that he has earlier brought to Schubert's masterpiece - I cannot imagine a more compelling performance than this. Ruby Philogene is equally impressive in the mezzo part. The distant chorus is wonderful as well, though I can understand the complaints that it is too distantly recorded (though I would add that in my opinion it achieves exactly the effect it should). Neither do I see any possible, serious complaints about Thomas Adès's piano playing, and the piano is to a large extent an equal partner in this work.
To fill out the disc we get earlier versions of two of the songs and some Moravian Folksongs for piano and a few miniatures - trifles, perhaps, but full of Janacek's trademark quirkiness and striking plays with moods and colors. In short, this is a splendid recording of an undeniable masterpiece - perhaps the best around (though my knowledge of the alternatives is limited) and certainly recommended with all possible enthusiasm.
This disk contains his only surviving song cycle - which is really a kind of song drama. It is based on some poems that appeared in a newspaper and caught the composer's eye. He clipped them out and took them with him on a trip to a spa and began working on the songs. The poems were published anonymously and were ostensibly by a rustic farm boy who is lured away by a gypsy and is never heard from again. It turns out they were by Ozef Kalda (the pseudonym of Josef Kalda (1871-1921). The songs are mostly for the tenor, but the gypsy makes her appearance, as do three female voices urging the boy to follow the gypsy. Ian Bostridge is superb as the rustic who disappeared and Ruby Philogene is fine as the gypsy.
The pianist, Thomas Adès, not only accompanies the song cycle, he also plays some wonderful solo pieces. One set is of piano pieces based on Moravian folk songs and then there is a set of miscellaneous pieces. All are quite short, but very expressive. Adès is a fine and expressive artist.
The disk concludes with earlier versions of two of the songs from the song cycle.
I think it is always good to stretch your musical experience. This music is quite different than the German, Italian, French art music and song writing that you are probably more used to hearing. This music, while certainly tonal, is quite different in harmonic language, melodic angularity and spacing. Enjoy!
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