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Libor Novacek.

Not too long back I did a post on pianist Libor
Novacek's Liszt album, giving some of my thoughts
on the the work and the performance. Well a few
days later I got a comment on the post from Jana
at Czech Koncerts thanking me for the review and
wondering if I would like to get a complimentary
copy of Novacek's recital from the 2009 Prague
Festival. Well I thanked her, and of course gladly
accepted the offer.

It took a while to get here. But get here it did,
last Friday, bearing some very attractive stamps
from the Czech Republic. Since then I have given
the album a few good listens. So I thought that I
might put down some brief thoughts on the album
and the performance.

The recital begins with Haydn's Piano Sonata in F
major, H. 16 no. 23. I'm very picky with Haydn. But
this was a very good performance. I particularly
liked Libor's performance of the Adagio. Once again
Novacek's tendency to sit on a note — not beyond
the note value but neither being in a rush to get
to the next chord or phrase — brought a subtle
intelligence to the music, in the process making it
more poetic.

The central performance on the disk is a selection
of 9 pieces from Debussy's Preludes: Book I. I have
to confess, I am not a big fan of Debussy, at least
not in the normal way that I tend to latch on to
composers. I mainly know him through his orchestral
works, most of which I don't like, and his excellent
opera. And so I don't know the Preludes. But no work
exists in a vacuum. When a composer sets pen to paper
there are always works that came before it; and, if
that work is of a prior era, works that come after
it. Listening to this work I immediately found myself
making associations with Liszt in terms of various
sonorities to be found and similar sounding keyboard
strokes. Debussy might have considered himself to be
a revolutionary. But while it might be possible to move
forward and escape the present, it is never possible
to escape the past. To my ear the shadows of Liszt and
Schumman loom large here. As for Novacek's performance,
it is a much more aggressive interpretation than the
ones I am used to. Which, considering that so many
performances of Debussy seem to have been recorded
with the specific intention of putting me to sleep,
Novaceks's more forceful reading is a good thing.

The first piece of the set, "Mists", grabbed me due to
the fact that I have been tossing around a short story
inspired by Paganini's 6th caprice — another very fog-
like piece. Novacek brought out the sad poetry of "Dead
Leaves" very nicely. It reminded me of a photo that I took
not too long back. In "Undine" Novacek somehow worked
the notes in a way that seems to bring forth a sense of
interaction between the sprites. "Undine" is at least
similar to Ravel's "Ondine," composed in 1908 — just a
few years prior to Debussy's Book 2. I suppose there are
only a limited number of ways that one can portray water
fairies on a keyboard. The set concludes with a grand
performance of "Fireworks."

For me the highlight of this performance was Bohuslav
Martinu's Three Czech Dances. I have a certain history
with Martinu. Decades ago, back when I started listening
to music, Martinu was along with Bartok the first of the
20th century composers to catch my interest. My local
library didn't have many recordings; nevertheless I
listened to them quite a bit over a period of months
— racking up some pretty good library overdue fees in
the process. After so many years titles have gone, the
only remains being this or that piece of melody. But
listening to this recording has sent me scampering back
to find them. Each of the Czech Dances is right at 3
minutes long. I really loved the second piece, "Dupak."
And the last of the three, "Polka," is an exciting piece
that would make an excellent encore.

Incidentally, when I went to the list of Martinu's
compositions on Wikipedia I noticed that the Dances were
not listed under works for solo piano. So I corrected
that deficiency.

The final work is the Fire Dance by Manuel de Falla. I
really don't care for this piece in the orchestral version.
But like many of Liszt's orchestra works this seems to fare
much better on piano. Novacek plays it with a nice balance
of bohemianism and tight control.

I really would like to thank both Libor and Jana for
sending me this disk. I imagine that over the next months
that it will be in heavy rotation on my turntable. Or
rather my CD player. Or my Blackberry.

Ah, links. You can order Libor's Prague Festival recording
by sending an email. There are also a number of MP3 downloads
available — including, speaking of mists — Janecek's In the Mists.