Jitka Cechová

Smetana: Piano Works - Macbeth, On the Seashore, Souvenirs de Boheme

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The piano music of Bedrich Smetana is less well known than his orchestral and operatic masterpieces, although he was obviously a fearsome pianist and wrote more for the piano than for anything else. His genius was pictorial and dramatic. When writing for the piano he turned to dance music, and the polka (originally a Czech dance, not Polish) plays a role in his music analogous to that of the mazurka in Chopin's output. But Smetana never quite achieves the loosey-goosey disconnection from dance rhythms that Chopin does.

All that said, there's a lot of music on this nice overview that ought to show up on piano recitals more often than it does. The large Souvenirs de Bohème en forme de polkas look not to Chopin but to Schumann, with varied textures and threads of memory all but overshadowing the basic polka material. Perhaps most effective here are three virtuoso showpieces: a transcription of Schubert's song Der Neugierige, the Concert Etude in C major, and the final Fantasie Concertante on Czech Folk Songs.

The young Czech pianist Jitka Cechová has the chops to bring audiences to their feet in material like this, although one could wish for a bit more sheer power in the opening, highly theatrical Macbeth and the Witches. In the Concert Etude, with its liquid scales and its nervous passages in which the player must deliver fast sequences of marcato notes in the piano's very top registers, she brings out every phase of the study in textures that Smetana has in mind. Her renditions of the large and small polka-based pieces included here are idiomatic and attuned to the peculiar quality of the composer's attempt to build a national piano music to match those he heard coming out of other European countries. This disc is recommended both for those who wish to know Smetana beyond Ma vlást and The Bartered Bride, and for those interested in Romantic national piano traditions.

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