Lars Vogt’s long fascination with the mysterious atmospheres of Leoš Janáček’s piano music, forever seemingly balanced on the dream-like cusp between fantasy and reality, produces a solid and crafted recital featuring three of the composer’s signature works.

Lars Vogt

In the ‘conversation’ with the pianist in the accompanying booklet, Vogt explains the appeal of the Czech master as a “feeling that something totally extraordinary was being expressed in a completely different way. The notation is sometimes absurd and verges on the unresolvable, but it arises, I believe, from a completely uninhibited, inner world of ideas”.

That sense of interiority is to the fore in the resigned melancholy of In the Mists, which reveals Janáček, taking his leave of substantial piano works, to be equally a creature of feelings. Like its companion works here, it ends with a vision of death, one reached via a journey marked by capricious rhythms, ostinato non sequiturs, often ambivalent tonalities and constantly shape-shifting melodies. All of which Vogt mediates with sensitivity and a clarity borne from playing of measured restraint, the fleeting burst of colour and light in the tentative but lyrical Molto Adagio all the more aching and affecting for its crepuscular surroundings.

Death is also centre stage in the Sonata I.X.1905, Janáček’s only surviving exercise in the form commemorating the murder by police of a young demonstrator advocating for a Czech university in then German-dominated Brno. Here, Vogt is at his most alert to the multi-faceted complexity of the music’s emotional response to the atrocity, glossing moments of outrage with a steely, dyspeptic accent, maintaining a clipped decorum in passages of mourning. Impressively refusing to give way to the clamour of the Sonata’s fateful second movement, Death, Vogt takes a more discrete, under-stated approach that makes the abrupt end of its fading ‘heart-beat’ repetitions seem all the more powerful and poignant.

The idiosyncratic collection of multi-hued miniatures that is On an Overgrown Path describe a landscape not easily traversed. Vogt is at his best in the limpid, windswept poetics of A Blown-away Leaf, the Debussy-tinged lullaby Good Night! and tender delicacy of In Tears, all clad in meticulously managed textures and clean, crisply clear tones.

Such qualities are there, too, in the cycle’s more animated pieces, where Vogt’s deft dynamics come, often hauntingly, into their own. ‘The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away’ proves an exemplary exercise in negotiating the divergent demands of evocative expression and more allusive needs of its impressionistic-leaning attitude.

The becomingly dry, dyspeptic humour of Words Fail! tellingly contrasts with the lilting, conflicted abstractions of Allegretto, where Vogt at his most deliberate is also most dissembling. Such contrariness is wholly in keeping with the pianist’s view of Janáček as “somewhat strict and rough but inwardly very tender and sensitive… a musical lone wolf”.

The recording, in Köln’s Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, is intimately framed by engineer Michael Morawietz and producer Stephan Schmidt. Vogt’s booklet interview serves as a useful primer for his approach to these sometimes visceral, often enigmatic pieces.

Composer: Janáček
Works: On an Overgrown Path, In the Mists, Sonata I.X.1905
Performer: Lars Vogt p
Label: Ondine ODE1382-2

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