Pohadka (Chandos)

The Czechs always have talent to spare on the bench

Lebrecht's Album of the Week


The Czechs and Hungarians, two of the most musical nations on earth, keep their treasures as far apart as the remote languages they speak. The Czechs belong to the Slavonic group of languages, the Hungarians to the Finno-Ugaritic. The rhythms of their music, dictated by speech patterns, are seldom heard in the same programme. Don’t ask me why.

Something by Bartok might have scored better for the Hungarian side

Two British musicians have crossed the invisible border on this recording, alternating Janacek with Kodaly and Dvorak with Andras Mihaly. Cellist Laura van der Heijden is a former BBC Young Musician of the Year and the Welshman Jams Coleman is a fast-rising piano collaborator.

They have most to say in Janacek’s Pohadka (fairytale) suite and in the cello conversion of his 1914 violin sonata. The directness of Janacek’s communication is a never-ceasing source of wonder and Laura’s cello tone does not sound out of place in the violin sonata.

Kodaly, even in his famed opus 4 cello sonata, never quite matches the Czech composer’s fantasy. Mihaly’s cello-piano movement, written for Kodaly’s 80th birthday, gives little expressive nods to the absent Bartok; something by Bartok might have scored better for the Hungarian side. 

The surprise winner on this album is a three-minute piece by Vitezslava Kapralova, the phenomenally gifted girlfriend of Bohuslav Martinu who died in France in 1940, tragically young at 25. Where the Hungarians have a midfield of Dohnanyi, Bartok and Kodaly, the Czechs always have talent to spare on the bench.

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