Some of Janacek's most characteristic invention is to be found in the many choruses he wrote for local choirs who were moved by both a love of singing together and a demonstration of their national identity. There is a good selection here. Even the earliest, a touching little lament for a duck, has a quirkiness which saves it from sentimentality; the latest, the Nursery Rhymes, are marvellous little inventions from the dazzling evening of Janacek's life. One must resist any temptation to say that they take Stravinsky on at his own game: Janacek is his own man. In between comes a varied diet here. Schoolmaster Halfar (or Cantor Halfar) is set with a dazzling range of little musical ironies as the story unfolds of the teacher who ruined his life by insisting on speaking Czech. The Elegy on the death of his daughter Olga goes some way toward dignifying a conventional text with some heartfelt music, but the pressure of grief has not drawn the greatest of his music from him: perhaps more time was needed, and indeed the piano pieces he entitled Along an Overgrown Path re-enter ancient griefs more expressively.
Henryk Gorecki (1933-2010) became best known for his Third Symphony, the ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ that became a hit in the 1990s, tapping into a new hunger in the listening public for serious new music that was nonetheless melodically inspired and spiritual in sensibility. These qualities can be readily discerned in much of the rest of his small and fastidious output. The Kleines Requiem für eine Polka (1993) is itself at once a profoundly serious work and a curiously elusive one, a blend of warm expressive directness with almost Brechtian alienation. It is scored for a chamber ensemble: like Henze’s late masterpiece, it is an instrumental Requiem, in which words are felt to be otiose to the direct expression of grief and consolation.
Following his compendious sets of music by the outstanding figures of Minimalism such as Philip Glass, Terry Riley and Michael Nyman, Jeroen van Veen returns to Brilliant Classics with new recordings of the grandfather, inspiring figure of the genre, Erik Satie. Not that Satie himself would have recognised the term, coined by Nyman in the early 70s, but in saying new things in a quiet voice, swimming against the tide of Romanticism, he influenced not only Debussy, Ravel, Les Six and countless artists of any medium…
This box collects several recordings of Satie's piano music by Dutch pianist Reinbert de Leeuw, going back as far as 1977, with an English-language DVD (not reviewed, but the idea is attractive) including a fictionalized presentation of Satie's relationship with artist Suzanne Valadon (after they broke up, he hung in his window cataloging her faults, but the film apparently doesn't get to the fun stuff). The provenance of the music on the third CD, consisting mostly of songs and featuring soprano Marjanne Kweksilber, is unclear from the booklet, and it's a poor choice for the non-Francophone – no song texts are provided at all. The piano music from de Leeuw is another matter, however. It is immediately distinctive in its slow tempos and dreamy, rather lugubrious tone.