programming here is unique. Other discs have covered some
of the same ground but you won’t find it displayed in the
same way, with Ježek to the fore, Janáček’s epigrammatic
late piano leaves mixing with Martinů’s French frolics,
and with Schulhoff coming on in the spirit of George Grosz.
connecting thread that binds Burian, Ježek and Schulhoff
was membership of Devetsil, an arts group with demotic
tendencies. Their beer-hall-and-lecture-room aesthetic
combined love of popular music with allegiance to higher
art and it shows in their piano works. Ježek’s Bugatti-Step dates
from 1931 and sounds like the result of a coupling between
Billy Mayerl and Zez Confrey; his slightly earlier Equatorial
Rag is attractive but is rather over-done in this performance.
Bagatelles date from 1933 and there are ten of them – slithers
of wit and drollery. Steffen Schleiermacher plays them
with a certain elegant warmth, extending the slow movements
to extract the full weight of gravity enshrined there.
His is a gentlemanly solution but turn to Jan Novotny on
Panton 1145, recorded in 1985, and another Ježek emerges.
Novotny relishes the harmonic astringencies and arrhythmic
games-playing that Schleiermacher downplays or smoothes
over. Note the way Novotny finds the satiric heart of the
second movement Andante, or the curious and modernist slant
he finds in the first Lento where his German rival is characteristically
more withdrawn and clement. The Funeral March offers the
widest divergence – utterly different conceptions entirely,
a manic Novotny, very fast, and a more sociable Schleiermacher.
competition too in the Haas Suite. Paul Orgel has recorded
a Terezin-inspired programme for Phoenix (PHCD 161) but
here honours are more even. The rather more insistent,
boxy Phoenix sound gives more immediacy to the dance rhythms
of the Danza but Schleiermacher plays with greater intensity
and incision in the opening Praeludium – bigger contrasts
as well. They diverge over the speed of the slow movement – Orgel
feels it much more quickly, rather as Novotny took the
1919 suite, dedicated to Grosz by the way, is notable not
only for its high jinks but for the central movement, 3.08
of silence – it consists entirely of rests. Did John Cage
know of it when he wrote his slightly more extended piece
de resistance? Perhaps the world should know. The other
movements mix foxtrots with ragtime though the final movement
is more harmonically questing and a foretaste of the more
brittle Schulhoff who to emerge in the later part of the
little pieces are brief, mainly forty second pieces. They
range form the lyric interlude of the Melodie, the
earliest of the six written in 1923, to the touching if
open ended piece he wrote four days before his death, The
Golden Ring. One or two inhabit a distinct Schumannesque
sound world. What the Russophile Moravian would make of
the pieces being written here in German is a moot point.
frolicsome pieces are cinematic in inspiration – bold,
vampy, raggy, pawky tango-ish, with a warm and delicate
song or two as well. The carillon calls of the last of
the eight is especially attractive in its chordal vivacity
but you’d be a veritable Martinů-Meister to be able
to connect the composer with any of these pieces.
Burian gives us a tragic vista on a man crushed by the
Nazis and then worn down and ostracised by the Communists;
his works were burned in front of his eyes by the Gestapo
- this little Waltz from his revue Quiet was one
of the few to escape. His refusal to peddle the party line
cost him dear and he died at the age of fifty-four in 1959.
the melancholy of Burian’s life this disc has a life-affirming
strength to it. I prefer Novotny in Ježek and occasionally
(but not always) Orgel in Haas. But there’s latitude in
this kind of repertoire for a variety of responses and
if you are attracted by the repertoire you will find much
of interest. But if you want Ježek you must have Novotny.