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Cat. No. CHAN 10430 Price: Ł0 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 10430 - Smetana: Piano Works (includes Dreams, On the Sea Shore, Czech Dances)
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Available From: 01 June 2007
Our image of Smetana as a composer is founded largely on his operas and the symphonic poem cycle, Ma Vlast, but he was first and foremost a composer for the piano. Formidably difficult works, reflecting his own ability on the piano, they manifest some influence from Liszt's virtuosic piano tradition and are very much in the Romantic style. Although Smetana is a highly esteemed as a Czech composer, most of his compositions, especially his piano works and operas, are still rarely performed today. Although he usually relied on Czech subjects for his music, he never quoted Czech folk music but unconsciously composed unorthodox Czech music. He created a dramatic atmosphere by means of his masterful orchestration, and trademark prolonged pedal points and strong chromatic Wagnerian bass lines.

The key work on this recording is the cycle of six Dreams. Composed after the on-set of deafness; Smetana had had to stop conducting and turn his attentions back to piano composition. ‘Extinguished Happiness’ has something of the Lisztian virtuosity of earlier works, but the brilliance is tinged with reflective melancholy. ‘Consolation’ which follows owes little to Liszt, rather its restless central section looks forward to the more agitated last symphonic poem of My Country. ‘In the salon’, seems to be looking back to youthful contentment while, ‘Before the Castle’ gazes back much further to an image of the nation’s heroic past. The concluding ‘Festivity of Czech country folk’ encompasses both an affectionate glimpse at rural goings on as well as a certain wry humour. The cycle is an excellent example of the extremes of Smetana’s composing style, and an excellent introduction to his piano music. The transcription of Schubert’s song ‘Der Neugierige’ is a brilliant and heartfelt transformation of Schubert’s work. In the same year, and again very much with Liszt’s example in mind, Smetana composed the Etude in C major; a big-boned work; its energy and the extreme demands of its virtuoso writing single it out as one of his most exciting works for piano. Completing the recording are the four Polkas composed in 1877 that comprise Smetana’s first set of Czech Dances and bring to a climax his lifelong association with this popular dance.

Versatile and imaginative Kathryn Stott brings fresh interpretations of Smetana which represent a new approach to one of the key personalities of Czech national music, and form a worthwhile collection of works from the latter part of his life.

Some two thirds of his [Smetana’s] output is for the piano, and there are some extraordinarily challenging works, both musically and technically, many of which are to be found in this wonderful selection of pieces performed here by Kathryn Stott… It would be wonderful if Stott might follow up the success of this disc with one devoted to these most engaging of Smetana’s keyboard works [Polkas] and the dance form with which he is most associated. For all the Lisztian qualities of much of Smetana’s piano works, it is here that he seems most at home. Jan Smaczny’s programme notes are first-rate.
International Record Review

Stott shows how much Smetana owed to Liszt. The Hungarian’s shadow lies over other works on the Chandos disc, the splendid Concert Study in C and transcription of Schubert’s Der Neugierge not least. Another pearl in Stott’s programme is the knockabout Fantasy on national songs.

This Chandos release is entitled Dreams, after the major work on the disc, and there are Czech folk dances and a Fantasia on Czech folk songs as well as other shorter pieces. Smetana doesn’t always sound Czech in his music, and this is so in the six-part Dreams. Neither is his keyboard work as well-known as it deserves to be, but Kathy Stott gives as a fine realisation of this music as we could wish for, making a very worthwhile recital.
Liverpool Daily Post

Stott also overtly emphasises Smetana’s debt to Chopin in her playing, which is wonderfully reflective and subtle, above all in Dreams, and in the exquisite On the Sea Shore, written in 1861, shortly after Smetana’s return to Prague from Sweden.
The Guardian

Stott’s approach is more measured, and more poetic. In her hands , the showers of notes garlanding the melody in On the Seashore have irresistible beauty, while the Czech dance entitled ‘Hulan’ (‘Lancer’) has an extraordinary tenerdness. These pianists have open up a treasure trove…
BBC Music Magazine


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