Smetana: Czech Dances; On the seashore

Reviewed on Mon 23 May, 2016

No praise can be too high for Garrick Ohlsson's immaculate artistry, breadth of tone and subtly dappled colour palette, and Hyperion's sumptuously realistic sonics do it full justice.

Cherished memories of the great Rudolf Firkušný come flooding back, but it's clear from Garrick Ohlsson's wholly persuasive and intrepidly characterful performances that he, too, adores and understands this music. Bedřich Smetana left us two books of Czech Dances. The First (1877) comprises four satisfyingly varied and nourishing takes on the polka, a dance form that Smetana sought to elevate in the precisely the same way that Chopin did the mazurka. The ten pieces that make up its exuberantly inventive successor from 1879 profitably plunder Karel Jaromír Erben's compilation of Czech songs (an extensive collection published between 1862-64), while serving up a feast of touching expression, humour and irresistible local colour. Bringing up the rear is the moody and virtuosic On the seashore, an enjoyably Lisztian evocation dating from Smetana's Gothenburg years (1856-61). No praise can be too high for Ohlsson's immaculate artistry, breadth of tone and subtly dappled colour palette; his is a decidedly superior brand of pianism, and Hyperion's sumptuously realistic sonics do it full justice. A delightful issue.
–Andrew Achenbach